Parshat בלק Bamidbar 22:20 – Other People’s Money

Bamidbar 22:20 – God came to Bilaam [during] the night and said to him, “If these men have come to call for you, arise and go with them, but the word I speak to you-that you shall do.”

Gemora Makot 10b – Rava the son of Rav Huna said, “from this we learn that whichever way a man desires to go, they help him [go that way].  [We see this from the fact that] in verse 22:12 God says “Don’t go with them” and in verse 22:20 He says “Arise, go with them”

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #7:

This is in accordance with the saying “Everything is in the hands of heaven except for the fear of heaven.” In this case here, God saw that in Bilaam’s evil heart he wanted to go with them, therefore God permitted him to go.

Look also in Rashi’s explanation on verse 22:18 where Bilaam states that even if Balak were to give him a house full of silver and gold, he [Bilaam] would still not be able to act against God’s will. There Rashi says as follows: “We learn here that Bilaam soul was wide and lusted after other people’s money.”

It is worthwhile to comment on the fact that we see in Pirkei Avot (9:6) as follows: “Rabbi Yosi Ben Kasma says: even if you were to give me all the silver and gold in the world I would not leave and go to a place that is not a place of Torah.” This being the case, how is it possible [for Rashi] to conclude something critical from Bilaam for using similar language?

Truthfully though, these two instances are not similar. In Pirkei Avot the situation was that a person was coming and enticing Rabbi Yosi to go and live in his city and he would be paid thousands of gold dinars for doing so.  Therefore it was appropriate for Rabbi Yosi to respond in a similar way and say that even if he were to be given all the gold in the world, he would not go. Thus we see that Rabbi Yosi responded appropriately and in the same phraseology as the enticement.

This is not the case here with Bilaam, however. In this case, Balak did not entice Bilaam with the enticement of making him rich. Rather he only promised him that he would be greatly honored as it says in verse 22:17, “I will certainly honor you”. Therefore, Bilaam should have responded in the same phraseology as the enticement and said that it wouldn’t matter how much honor Balak granted him, he still would not be able to go against the word of God.

So, why did Bilaam instead respond and say that even if he was to be given a house full of money he wouldn’t be able to go against the word of God? Certainly, this change of phraseology was because really Bilaam desired and lusted after other people’s money [and wanted to be rich.] This is according to the well-known fact that a person’s desires are often on his tongue [ie, people mention frequently the thing that they desire the most.]

Editor’s Note: I believe that the Torah Temimah here is interested in pointing out that the Gemora is not just gratuitously criticizing Bilaam.  Rather, the Gemora is pointing out how, from the wording of the Chumash itself, we see Bilaam’s lust for money.

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