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Words of the Parashah - Balaam

Hebrew Word of the Week

Based on the Weekly Torah Portion


The Hebrew word of the week is Balaam (Hebrew, Bil'am), a name that may mean "not of the people," a "mad man," or a "corrupter of the people."  Balaam was a renowned sorcerer from Pethor in Mesopotamia (Deut 23:4), who, though aware of the God of Israel, made his esoteric services available to others for a fee. When Israel arrived along the border of Moab near the end of their wanderings, King Balak of Moab hired Balaam to "curse Israel" so they would not be able to take possession of the land. He is first mentioned in parashat Balak (Numbers 22:5):

Bil'am the Sorcerer
Numbers 22:5a (BHS)

He (i.e., king Balak) sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor (Num 22:5a)

Balaam is mentioned no less than fifty-one times in Kitvei HaKodesh, beginning with the account given in Parashat Balak (Numbers 22-24). He was later killed in a battle between Israel and the Midianites (Numbers 31:8). He is also mentioned in Deut 23:5-6; Joshua 13:22; 24:9-10; Micah 6:5; and Nehemiah 13:2.

Although at first glance Bil'am might appear to be a man of God, a true prophet, both the Scriptures and Jewish tradition are emphatic that he was an adversary of the LORD and an ememy of the children of Israel. His so-called sorcery led to folly and death. The New Testament Scriptures speak of "the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing" (2 Pet 2:15), "Balaam's error" (Jude 1:11), and "the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel" (Rev 2:14).

Perhaps paradoxically, or at least ironically, the blessing that Bil'am was constrained to confess over Israel was integrated into the daily Shacharit service as the Mah Tovu.

Related Words

Parashah-Related words:

Other words in parashat Balak that merit study and attention include:

Related Words

Scripture Passages:

Numbers 23:23 (BHS)

For there is no enchantment against Jacob,
no divination against Israel. (Num 23:23)

Goto Balak
Numbers 24:5 (BHS)

How lovely are your tents, O Jacob,
your encampments, O Israel! (Num 24:5)

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