Do Blessings Matter?


This week’s Parsha, Balak, takes us into           very strange terrain. Jews are not unaccustomed to having enemies who  intend  them great harm. However, this is generally of the conventional  type which one can prepare for. 

For most of the exile Jews were easy prey for all the vicious predators that were out there. They had no way to fight back and this is what attracted the bullies to attack them. But that situation has changed dramatically.

Today there is an Israeli army that ranks among the best in the world. And the IAF is world class. So when Hamas shot missiles into Israeli cities recently Gaza was visited by the Air Force with targeted, stunning kills. Thank G-d that the era of silent suffering is part of our past.

Balak son of Tzippor King of Moab was fearful of the Jews. He knew that he was no match for them on the battlefield so he sought to weaken them in a different manner. He retained the services of Billam son of Beor  to “curse” them for he knew that “who you curse is cursed and who you bless is blessed”.

What exactly was Billam able to achieve with his imprecations? The Torah does not endorse any kind of Voodoo which, in fact, falls under the heading of Idolatry. It does not believe that any  human has the power to effectuate actual events in the natural world by uttering incantations.

Whatever man can achieve in this world is possible only by his utilization of the forces that Hashem established in His Universe. All of the great technological progress that we now enjoy is due  to the understanding of the laws of nature  which has accrued to mankind through the study of science. Black magic has nothing to offer so beware of religious charlatans who seek to convince you otherwise.

So what  exactly  was the talent of Billam that attracted the notice of Balak? Rabbi Israel Chait explained that Billam was a shrewd manipulator who had very deep insights into the weaknesses of societies.  He  was able to detect when a nation was in a state of severe turmoil and on the brink of dissolution. At that point he would dramatically  utter curses and incantations against the failing entity. And when the calamity inevitably  occurred people would attribute it to the power of Billam’s curses.

This explains, said Rabbi Chait, why Hashem had to intervene to prevent Billam from cursing the Jews. For left to his own devices Billam would have peered deeply into the core makeup of the Jewish People and he might have discovered some fatal flaws in their  inner  character which, if revealed,  would have been a source of great harm throughout our history.

This makes sense of Billam’s ability to bring down nations with his curses. But what is the explanation of,  “and who you bless is blessed”? Of great significance are the words of the Sforno. He says that the power of Billam did not reside in conferring blessings. (And Balak only mentioned this to show respect not because it was true.)

Sforno deduces this from the fact that Balak did not request that Billam bless him so that he might have the strength to overcome the Jews,  whom he detested. Rather, he believed that the only viable course was to have Billam weaken them by cursing them which was his true vocation.

This insight opens a window to understanding the nature of a genuine blessing. A wicked person cannot give blessings. Since he does not recognize the nature of the true good, what positive benefit can he confer on anyone?  On the verse, “And G-d said to Billam, ’Do not go with them, do not curse the Nation for they are blessed”,  Rashi  comments that Billam responded  to Hashem, “if so let me curse them  in my place”.

Hashem then  said, “Do not curse the Nation”, to which Billam retorted, “if so then I will bless them” to which Hashem answered, “They do not need your blessing for they are blessed”.  In conclusion Rashi says, this is akin to what one says to the hornet, “neither your honey nor your sting”.

This teaches that  the blessing of the Rasha (wicked one) is equal to his curse. Both are destructive because the wicked have no concept of the true good and whatever they would give you will only bring harm.

A true bracha can only come from a Tzadik. That is because only he knows what the  actual tov is and genuinely wants you to achieve it. He must have the wisdom and motivation to study your nature and situation and then offer a considered judgement as to how you might go forward. He can offer you clarity and the psychological confidence in yourself which is vital to succeeding in your mission.

One must, first and foremost, work on himself, develop his skills and increase his self-confidence. But one’s subjective vision, especially in matters pertaining to his personal pursuits, is, of necessity, limited. If possible one should seek access to those who are truly wise and submit his plans and aspirations for their perusal.  

The blessings of the wise and righteous are very potent and can have positive ramifications. In fact, authentic blessings matter greatly.  May we merit to be worthy of them

Shabbat Shalom