FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE TORAH until its end, the narrative follows one perspective: the emergence of the Jewish people, as seen from the insider's view. We follow the development of the Patriarchs' families, who issue from the family of humankind, as they become the Children of Israel. They are transformed into a nation, ready to establish a society founded upon the values of Torah. They rise to sanctity, fall in sin, and rise again in repentance.
The whole parshah is filled with Hebrew verbs of vision:
THERE ARE ALSO MANY EXAMPLES of vision-related imagery, such as "the eyes of G-d" (23:27; 24:1); "the eyes of the angel of
Hashem" (22:34) and "the one whose eyes have been opened" [Bil'am] (24:4, 16). Another expression Bil'am applies to himself, SHTUM HA'AYIN (24:3,15), might mean, as quoted by
Rashi, either "of the gouged, or blinded, eye" or "of the open eye"! Perhaps Bil'am himself is unsure whether his vision is occluded or clear.
BIL'AM'S DONKEY not only speaks, but three times (22:23,25,27), it sees the angel, which its master, the "seer," cannot see! Bil'am is thereby taught that, in addition to his own power of speech, his vision, too, comes from Hashem (verse 31).
BALAK ASSUMES that the people can be cursed using Bil'am's power of vision. As Kli Yakar (R. Ephraim Shlomo of Luntshits, 1550-1619) explains, Balak at first thought that the people could be cursed by finding the weakness in their origins, their descent from idolaters. Next he searched for the sins of the descendants themselves, as a weakness to be exploited. His error was in evaluating these failures from a superficial perspective: in fact, the Patriarchs created a new ancestry, and the children had been absolved of their sins, often through painful atonement.
NOW HE BEHOLDS THE PEOPLE devoid of preconceptions, thereby opening himself up, as Ramban says, to prophecy:
BIL'AM DISCOVERS that the Children of Israel must be observed from within. Ironically, this also provides him with the means for their downfall: by enticing them to sin through the women of Midian, he undermines their inner moral and spiritual strength. It is significant that some of the key words associated with the dispatching of the Israelite man and the Midianite woman in 25:8 - KUBBAH (tent) and KAVATAH (her belly) - connote "that which is within," and also resembles a word for cursing, KABO, that was mentioned often in the parshah (e.g., 22:11,17; 23:8,13,27).
The parshah opens up with VAYAR BALAK and concludes with VAYAR PINCHAS!
MOREOVER, THIS PARSHAH is set against the backdrop of the book of Bamidbar, which chronicles the immense shifts in the relationship between Israel and Hashem. We may fear we are rejected, but when we are granted the gift of seeing ourselves as Hashem wants us to be seen by others, we understand more profoundly Hashem's love for us.