A Taste of Torah in Honor of Shabbat
by Rabbi Avi Weiss
July 10-11, 17 Tammuz, 5758
Given that Bilaam, the heathen prophet, had received permission from God to go with Balak,
King of Moav, to the Jewish People, (Numbers 22:20) why was the "anger of the Lord
kindled" against him [Bilaam]? (sentence 22)
A review of the text, however, reveals that at first God refused Bilaam permission.
(sentence 12) Only after Bilaam asked to go a second time, did God consent.
From here the Midrash says, we can learn "that a person is lead down the path he
chooses to tread. For in the beginning he [Bilaam] was told, 'Thou shalt not go.'
[But when Bilaam stubbornly asked to go a second time, God agreed. Nonetheless, as soon as
he went] 'The anger of the lord was kindled.' Said the Holy One Blessed Be He to him
[Bilaam]: Villain! I desire not the destruction of the wicked. But since you
are bent on going to your own
destruction, rise up and go." (Bamidbar Rabbah 20:12)
This Midrash may be predicated on three ideas:
First, while no one can impose
limitations upon God, God's power is so great, He has the capacity to impose limitations
Second, an example of a self imposed limitation is God's stepping back and allowing people
the freedom to choose.
Third, not every choice a human being makes pleases God. To wit, God was angry with
Bilaam for choosing to go to the Jewish people with the intent of cursing them.
Note that when confronted by an angel of God who intended to stop Bilaam, (sentences
22-26) Bilaam hypocritically declared "if it be displeasing to you, I shall go
back." (sentence 34) Here the angel of God responds, "Go along with the
men." (sentence 35) In other words, since Bilaam's inner desire was to go, even
God would not stop him from traveling the path he had chosen.
Evil displeases the Almighty. But if God would always intervene and prevent evil
from occurring, human beings would cease being human as they would be bereft of freedom of
choice. When creating humankind God's will was to allow people to act out their own
desires, even if those actions run contrary to God's wishes.
This, of course, does not mean that God is uninvolved. God cares deeply about everything
that happens to the point that we are told that every day God cries for the destruction of
the Temple (Berakhot 3a), even as, no doubt, God cries for any "human temple"
Hence, all at once, God can allow Bilaam to go even as he remains angry and perhaps even
cries over his decision.
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