In this week’s parsha, Balak sends messengers to Bilam, asking him to come and curse Bnei Yisrael. Hashem does not allow Bilam to agree, and he is forced to refuse the messengers’ request. Once again Balak send messengers, and again Bilam asks Hashem to let him go. This is most surprising: has Hashem not already told him, “You shall not curse the nation, for it is blessed”? Why does Bilam think that there is any point in asking again? Does it help to “nag” Hashem? Does He change His mind from one day to the next?

And another question: if Bilam knows that the nation is blessed, then even if he goes, of what use will his curses be?

The Gemara provides an interesting answer to our first question:

“Rav Nahman taught: Chutzpa, even towards God, helps. (How do we know this?) First it is written, “Do not go with them”, and in the end it is written, “Arise, go with them” (Sanhedrin 105a).

As the Midrash comments here, “In the way that a person wishes to go – he is led”. Chutzpa and determination are effective, at least in the short term. Human will-power is very strong – even when directed towards evil. The fact that Hashem “gives in”, as it were, and acquiesces to the will of man is an integral part of the mechanism of free will in the world. If every evildoer was immediately met with failure and disaster, crime would offer no incentive. The evil inclination therefore pays in cash, while goodness sometimes pays off over a long period of credit.

If we follow this idea further, we understand the enormous power of words. There are several levels of speech and of ways in which it acts and changes reality:

Informative speech – conveys information. The information is received and calculated into the decision-making process of the listeners, thereby influencing their reactions and behaviour.

Charismatic speech – conveys emotions, motivations and suggestions. Listeners are influenced and modify their behaviour accordingly.

Creative speech – here it is the words themselves that are active, rather than the listeners. This type of speech has no need for listeners. It is through this speech that Hashem created the world: “And Hashem said, “Let there be light” – and there was light.” There was no-one there to hear Him! The light did not “listen” and then come into existence; the speech created it. “With ten utterances the world was created.” Had the Torah not revealed to us that such speech exists, we could never have known that it does.

According to Hazal, the power of creative speech was given, in some measure, also to man. The Gemara (Bava Metzia 106a), in a discussion of the laws of rental and tenancy, describes a situation in which a person rents his field to his friend, and instructs him to plant wheat. The tenant decides to plant barley instead.

That year an agricultural plague strikes, and the field in question is also ruined. In general, an owner and a tenant share the profits of the field; the question here is whether they share the loss or whether the owner of the field deserves compensation because the tenant did not honor the agreement.

Our natural reaction is that the same damage would have occurred anyway, since all the field were affected by the plague.

But the Gemara provides the following fascinating insight: the owner may argue as follows: “If you had planted wheat, as we decided, the wheat would not have been affected, since I was praying for the wheat! I had no way of knowing that I had to pray for barley!”

The human will is strong, and words have great power. Not only to influence and persuade, but also to create, and also to destroy. Bilam knew the power of words, and learned the difficult way that this power did not come to him magically, but rather emanated from his living soul, a gift from heaven.

May we merit to make good use of this Divine gift: “You shall decree a thing and it shall come to be, and light will shine upon your ways.” (Iyov 22:28)