Balak – Slave or Son

The roman governor Turnus Rufus constantly debated with Rabbi Akiva, one exchange is told in Bava Basra (10a); he asked Rabbi Akiva, “If your God loves poor people why did he make them poor?” Rabbi Akiva replied, “So that others have the opportunity to give charity and fix our own mistakes through this deed.” Turnus Rufus smiled, “You are wrong. In fact for helping the poor you should be punished. I’ll explain in an analogy, imagine a king banished a slave of his and locked him away in the dungeon. All of the sudden someone shows up and gives him money, gives him food, clothes, shelter – all the nice things you Jews do for each other. How angry would the king become from this person going against what was decreed? That this person should suffer in prison! In the end of the day are you not God’s slaves? It is written, “B’nei Yisrael are my slaves”(Vayikra 25:55). Rabbi Akiva retorted with his own analogy, “Imagine a king got upset at his precious son, the prince, so to teach him a lesson he sent him to prison. And then, the king’s minister has mercy on the prince and brings him food and money to help him out. When the king finds out about this, would he be upset that someone is helping his son? Surely not, the king would be joyous. We are indeed God’s children, for it is written, “You are the children of Hashem your God” (Devarim 14:1) 

Parshas Balak famously contains the story of Bilaam, a sorcerer hired by the king of Moav to curse the Jews. “Bilaam got up in the morning and saddled his donkey…”(22:21) Although it’s similar to the president himself filling up the limo with gas it does make sense, it was a big day for Bilaam; the day he ends the Jewish people. So he got up early in the morning to saddle up his ride. Rashi compares this to Avraham Avinu who also woke up early in the morning to saddle his donkey on his way to the Akeida of Yitzchak. Bilaam had alacrity to kill the entire Klal Yisrael, whereas Avraham had the drive to fulfill the will of God. Why would Rashi compare the two? Because they were both about to kill the entire Jewish nation. The difference between them was their motives. Both Avraham and Bilaam were planning on ending the Jewish nation, if Avraham would have slaughtered Yitzchak like he was originally commanded then there would never be any Jewish nation past Yitzchak. Avraham though, was following the commandment of God, for Avraham truly loved Hashem. Bilaam was expressly going against Hashem and His people, but Bilaam had even deeper motives. He saw that God loved the Jewish people, that it was as if Hashem was obsessed with Klal Yisrael. Bilaam figured, it can’t be that the Jews are actually the chosen nation, rather it is only because they are the only nation doing what God wants. But if every nation did what God wanted then His love for the Jewish people would be “cooled off”. Then, the Jews would no longer be special to God, they would no longer be His precious prince, they would just be another slave like Turnus Rufus said. On the outside, Bilaams intentions seemed reasonable, he wanted more people to serve God, but the reason he wanted more people to serve God was so it would take away from the love He has for Klal Yisrael. Bilaam failed not only because he wanted to curse the precious nation of Hashem but also because he truly believed that God did not care about us. It may seem sometimes that The King, The King of all kings sent us into a dark prison, and that He no longer loves us but we see from the story of Bilaam that God not only loves us, but He would never let anybody replace us. A servant can easily be replaced. But a son, a prince, he cannot be exchanged.

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