Why Bilam Was the Perfect Prophet for the Nations

By Kal Taylor as inspired by Rabbi Mann’s teachings 6/30/10

Every time we study Parashas Balak and the story of Bilam in the Torah, I have come away unsatisfied with the question, why Bilam?  Why didn’t the gentiles have a prophet like Moshe, who would lead the nations to an appreciation of the relationship G-d had with the Jewish nation and ultimately an appreciation for the sanctification of G-d’s name?

It is the instinctive nature of man to seek idols and role models - something to look up to.  G-d gave the Jewish nation Moshe, the humblest man who ever lived, to lead the Jewish nation.  That humble quality in Moshe was a key factor in his greatness and success as a leader.

What quality in Bilam made him the perfect example for the nations?  Where is Bilam’s greatness?  If he was so great, than why were 24,000 lives destroyed by the plague as a result of his plot to incite sexual immorality within the Jewish nation?

Bilam had the potential to be great.  He feared G-d and when sought out by Balak to curse the Jews, three times he said that whatever G-d speaks, he would speak.  In analyzing the character of Bilam through his actions, we can see that fearing G-d in the sense that Bilam demonstrates is not enough to qualify as a great leader.  Bilam feared G-d in the infantile way; as a child would fear a dominant, unyielding father.  He was afraid of punishment.

In contrast to Moshe, Bilam had the desire to be honored and was enticed by physical pleasures.  These desires were the motivations causing Bilam to go with Balak even though G-d had initially told him not to go.  Bilam was jealous of G-d’s relationship with the Jewish people and because of that jealousy, he, too, wanted the Jewish people destroyed.  Bilam’s fear of G-d and these imperfections in his character caused Bilam to experience great conflict.

One cannot underestimate the power of this conflict.  This is exactly why Bilam is the perfect role model for the gentiles.  In spite of the miracle that Bilam came to see through his donkey, Bilam’s repentance for his sin, and his speaking the words of Hashem in blessing the Jewish nation three times, Bilam’s jealousy of the Jewish nation prevailed.

How many times throughout history have we seen jealous leaders set out to destroy the Jewish nation?  How many empires have we watched rise and fall; yet the Jews are still here.  Bilam is the epitome of the potential greatness that each one of us can rise to when we heed the words of Hashem.  The “special” relationship that Jews have with G-d does not make them better people, nor a people to envy.  The fact that G-d gave the Jewish nation the Torah, His word, the framework from which to experience the best life, places a tremendous responsibility on the Jewish people to be that model to entice the nations to a better way through their example and teachings.  

The quality of Moshe, to be humble and to not seek honor, led to his greatness.  The character defect of jealousy in Bilam compromised his potential for greatness.  The Torah is full of examples of character greatness; yet it is full of examples of character defects even among the greats.  Why?  Because we can be inspired by great examples of character, and we can learn the most from seeing the consequences of character defects in ourselves and others.  G-d gave the Jewish nation the prophet, Moshe, to bring the Torah teachings of man’s greatness and man’s imperfections to all men.  Through prayer, intellectual honesty, and reflection on these Torah lessons, we have the opportunity to achieve true greatness.