The portion begins with Balak, the King of Moab, growing fearful of the Israelites. He sends messengers to Bilaam, a famous wizard and expert in magic – and asks him to curse the people of Israel. Bilaam meets the king’s messengers and tells them he will do only as instructed by G-d. That night, G-d said to Bilaam, “You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people; for they are blessed.” The messengers return to Balak who then sends higher ranking princes to Bilaam and promises him great honor and prestige if he were to curse the Israelites. Bilaam again responded that he would only do as G-d said and asks G-d again if he should curse the children of Israel. Bilaam starts to have a change of heart and travels to meet Balak. G-d is angered that he went and places an angel in the road, blocking the way for Bilaam’s donkey – creating an additional obstacle for him to curse the Israelites. When Bilaam finally meets Balak, he makes it clear he will only do as G-d says. Instead of cursing, he blesses the Israelites on three separate occasions. Balak is furious and sends Bilaam home without honor or riches. The commentators reveal that Bilaam subsequently returned to Balak and shared with him how to ensnare the Israelites with the temptation of idol worshipping and sexual immorality. Essentially, this would have them curse themselves – and he would not be going against G-d’s word. Bilaam is later killed for his role in this series of events. We learn the important lesson here to trust our instincts and to not be persuaded by money or prestige. When Bilaam was initially approached to go to Balak, he clearly said no. It was not until the second offering from higher ranking princes of more money and prestige that he decided to travel to meet Balak. Just like Bilaam, we often know the right answer, yet we ask again and somehow justify moving from our original instinctive position. Once we open a space for negativity to enter, we pave the way for negative effects to occur in our lives. Bilaam ultimately lost his connection to G-d by helping to lead the Israelites astray and resulting in his death. The key is to try to stay on the path and be true to your good intentions, despite the potential for personal gain and increased status.
The majority of the portion discusses Balak and Bilaam’s attempts to curse the Israelites, yet the Israelites remained totally unaware that this was taking place. We can learn from this that there is the potential for unseen negative forces and people outside of our awareness that do not have our best interests in mind. In order to protect ourselves against the potential of “curses” in our lives – we must strive to be busy sharing and helping others. The same way the Israelites were busy preparing to make a holy place in Israel after 40 years of wandering in the desert, we too must be busy looking at ways to find and reveal holiness in the world. If we focus on the Light and positive things in our lives, that is what we will draw into our lives. If we, G-d forbid, are busy with judgment and looking for negative things in others, we unfortunately will attract darkness. We can also learn from this story how despite all odds and how things may appear from the outset, we have the ability to convert curses to blessings.
The Zohar and Kabbalists share that after Bilaam blessed the Israelites, as opposed to cursing on three separate occasions, he was sent home. He returned however and shared with Balak that the people would curse themselves if presented with a strong enough opportunity to sin. A harlot named Kozbi was told to find Moses and tempt him into immoral sexual conduct. She mistook Zimri, the head of the tribe of Shimon, for Moses however and when the community of 24,000 people saw Zimri’s inappropriate conduct, they all fell into a state of sin and began to idol-worship and act immorally. To be protected from external curses and negativity we must make sure that we maintain our personal strength to avoid selfish tendencies and the desire to receive for the self-alone. It is ultimately up to us, not an outside force, to be proactive and choose the higher road. If we are not aware of the various things sent to tempt us, we can potentially fall from a state of higher consciousness and engage in activity we will ultimately regret – becoming our own worst enemy.
There are two distinct opportunities to connect to healing in this portion. First, we find a letter “mem” at the top of a column in the Torah. Normally each column begins with the letter “vav” – except for 6 places. The mem connects us to one of the seventy-two, three-letter names of G-d associated with healing – Mem Hei Shin. Second, the portion ends when Pinchas, the grandson of Aaron and a priest, sees Kozbi and Zimri having immoral sexual relations in front of the entire congregation. He rose up and put a spear through both of them – killing them and stopping a plague which had killed 24,000 Israelites. Through Pinchas’ merit of stopping the plague, we can connect to the energy of healing here in the Portion of Balak and next week in the portion of Pinchas.