By Rabbi Yedidya Noiman
Former Rosh Kollel in Montreal (2016- 2019)

For the PDF Version: פרשתבלק5780אנגלית

In our Parashah we read about the gentile prophet Bil’am, who was asked to use his special spiritual powers in order to curse Am Yisrael. In the Gemara (Brachot 7a) we are told that Bil’am was the only one to know the exact split second that Hashem is angry. It is also stated in the Midrash (Sifri Dvarim 357, 10)) that in Am Israel there was no prophet that could be compared to Moshe Rabeinu, but from the other nations, there is one- Bil’am. So we could argue that Bil’am was a spiritual force and therefore the Jewish leader we should compare him to is Moshe Rabeinu.

But, when we read on in the Parasha we find that the one able to respond to his wicked plan to make Am Yisrael sin in Ba’al Peor is Pinchas and not Moshe. Moshe seems to be helpless and unable to respond to the challenge Bil’am presents.

This impression gets even stronger when we read the famous Mishnah in Masechet Avot (Ch. 5,19) where the Mishna ‘ignores’ Mosh Rabeinu and instead of comparing him to Bil’am, the Torah compares Avraham to Bil’am:

כל מי שיש בידו שלשה דברים הללו מתלמידיו של אברהם אבינו ושלשה דברים אחרים מתלמידיו של בלעם הרשע.

‘Anyone who has these three things is from the students of Abraham, our father, and [anyone who has] three other things is from the students of Bil’am the evildoer..’.

In fact, this question bugged me for many years and not only that I did not find an answer, it seemed to me that that no commentator was even troubled about it. It was only a few years ago that I found out that Rav Tzadok HaKohen from Lublin was also troubled by this fact.

In his book, Resisei Laila (Ch. 35), Rav Tzadok explains that Moshe Rabeinu is ‘hidden’ when comparing Bil’am to someone because Bil’am used Moshe as an argument against the Jewish people.

Bil’am suggested that the fact that all the Jews aren’t holy and righteous like Moshe Rabeinu should be held against us. Moshe Rabeinu proved that we are capable to achieve such heights, and when Am Yisrael does not meet that standard, it is a reason to punish them. In a way, Bil’am was so fascinated by the accomplishments of Moshe, that he assumed that every individual is capable of that. And since Am Yisrael as a whole is very far from Moshe Rabeinu, Bil’am thought that the nation should be cursed and punished.

His mistake was to compare and expect us all to be like Moshe while Chazal teach us that the expectation is to at least be Avraham. Avraham wasn’t praised on his intellectual skills, in fact – not even for his righteousness. Avraham is praised for his manners and traits, the Midot of Avraham are the reason he is admired. Chazal teach us that the important legacy is what are the values and attributes you pass on to the next generations and not only the actions you did or the knowledge you accumillated.

Bil’am believed that as long as you meet the intellectual requirements and do the right actions, it does not matter if you have a bad personality. In his eyes you can have a wicked personality and that should not be held against you when we judge your quality as a person.

Therefore, while Avraham Avinu is the pillar of our nation because of his fine personality Bil’am represented a poisoned personality with intellectual skills.

By promoting Avraham as our role model Chazal teach us the basic difference between us and Bil’am. We aim for people who are positive from inside and from the outside all together. Yes, we all pray ,want and work in order to get to the level of Moshe but as a nation the basic fundamentals are to have good Midot and only they will enable us to reach the spiritual and intellectual heights of Moshe Rabeinu.

Rav Noiman has started a Whatsapp group called ‘Rav Kook’s insights’
in English with a short shiur from Rav Kook’s powerful Torah.
To join the group you can simply click on this link:
you can also contact him at:, and he will add you to the group.