Rabbi Dovid Schwatz
Li-zchus the complete health of the author.
Moshe wrote his book and the passage of Bilaam. — Bava Basra 14B
[Balak said to/ about Bilaam] “I know that whomever you bless is blessed and whomever you curse is cursed.” — Bemidbar 22:6
Bilaam hated the Jews more than Balak did — Zohar III page 212B
Elokim said to Bilaam ” … Do not curse the nation because it is blessed.” … I can only declare the words that Elokim puts in my mouth — Bemidbar 22:12, 38
What curse can I pronounce if Keil will not grant a curse? What Divine Anger can I invoke if HaShem will not be angry? — Bemidbar 23:8
It is a blessing that I have taken; and I cannot reverse such a blessing. [G-d] does not look at iniquity in Yaakov and He sees no vice in Yisrsel. HaShem his Elokim is with him and he has the King’s friendship — Bemidbar 23:20,21
I will listen to what the Keil-HaShem will speak; for He will speak peace to His people and His pious ones. — Tehillim 85:9
If I were to know Him [G-d] I would [perforce] have to BE Him. — attributed to both the Kuzari and Rav Yoseph Albo in Sefer Ha’Ikarim
People often conflate occupation with identity. Ask the average person “who/ what are you?” and the instinctive answer will be along the lines of “I am a neurosurgeon” or “I do home remodeling for a living.” This is patently incorrect. When the contractor retires he does not cease to exist. If the neurosurgeon develops Parkinson’s disease and can no longer perform surgery he will not wither away and die on the spot.
While it is true that in most healthy well-adjusted individual their deeds and choice of occupation and avocation flow from their internal character, not only are we all capable of acting out of character on occasion but the baseline truth is that who we are and what we do are two entirely different matters. This is especially true when it comes to verbal communications with others. There are some brave and/ or guileless individuals who convey their undressed thoughts in all their stark bluntness. They say what they mean plainly and mean what they say completely; irrespective of whom they are conversing with. But, either consciously or subconsciously, the vast majority of conversationalists tailor their words to meet the expectations of the listener(s). When expressed verbally the naked thought, once reposing in the inner and intimate recesses of the mind, can be clothed in a wide array of habiliments. The schemer, the sycophant and the hypocrite; masters of “echad b’peh v’echad b’lev” 1 will clothe their thoughts in the verbal equivalents of masquerade ball costumes that completely obscure their inner thoughts and that present the diametric opposite of their true opinions and feelings. The introvert, who is uncomfortable with sharing his own inner life with others, will employ an approach to conversation best described as “liba d’lpuma lo galya” 2 (cp. Koheles Rabbah 12:10). He will dress his few spoken words in loose fitting, form-obscuring coveralls that conceal far more than they reveal. But nearly all of us, to a lesser or greater extent think differently than we speak and often meditate about things that we never speak about with others.
One of the great Jewish thinkers of the 20th century would often say that the talmid who understood the Rebbi’s contemplative silences was a greater disciple who had a deeper understanding of the mentor than those one who understood all of his verbal teachings with great clarity and understanding. If this is true about interpersonal communications and relationships it is even truer about bein adam lamakom3 . After we stretch the limits of our theology, HaShem Himself (atzmuso Yisbarach) remains ultimately unknowable. Jewish theology concerns itself exclusively with hanhagosav Yisbarach4 , NOT with Who or What He is. In the second gate of Nefesh Hachaim, Rav Chaim Volozhiner, teaches very clearly that atzmuso Yisbarach is completely concealed and beyond human understanding, “concealed beyond all concealments” in the words of the Zohar. Even those Divine names such as Havayah5 and Ein Soph6 , which are often referred to as proper names and not kinuyim7 ; also merely refer to His Providence of His creation and the way he Willfully “attaches” Himself to his creation but do not refer to G-d’s mahus8 . That said while such names as Havayah and Ein Soph are not descriptive of the Indescribable they, nevertheless, approach a comparatively more intrinsic theology than the kinuyim-nicknames; such as Shakay9 or Erech Apayim10 do, as the latter are more explicitly descriptive of hanhagosav Yisbarach.
With these concepts in mind we may attempt to learn a teaching of the Izhbitzer school that revolves around Sidrah Balak. The Izhbitzer taught that when Dovid the King wrote “I will listen to what the Keil - HaShem will speak” he was “eavesdropping”, as it were, to penetrate not Divine communications to others but Divine meditations — what does HaShem think about to Himself in His, kivyachol, 11 private, contemplative moments? Like the exceptional talmid who understands far more than all of his Master’s verbal teachings with great clarity and understanding but grasps the Rebbi’s contemplative silences as well, Dovid the king sought to know what it is that the Divine mind “speaks to Itself.” What Dovid the king learned, teaches the Izhbitzer, is that “He will speak peace about His people and His pious ones.” Certainly Dovid, who was a prophet as well as a king, had heard HaShem speak to him prophetically about the favor and betterment of Klal Yisrael12. But he wanted to know, kivyachol, HaShem’s “innermost Thoughts” concerning Klal Yisrael. Somehow accessing these inner chambers where the Divine soliloquy is spoken kivyachol, Dovid discovered that, there too, within the internal conversation of the Divine Mind, He speaks peace about His people and His saints. This “somehow” begs the question: the very etymology of the lashon kodesh-holy language; word of prophet — navi—is rooted in the expression niv sefasayim-the produce [murmurings] of the lips (cp. Yeshaya 57:19). In other words a navi is so called because he is a human being who receives, and can understand, Divine speech , kivyachol. But that which HaShem does not speak is, by definition, beyond the perceptive powers of the navi. So how did Dovid, in fact, gain access to HaShem’s unspoken “thoughts”?!?
His elder son, the second Izhbitzer- the Bais Yaakov, elaborates on his father’s teaching and, in so doing, addresses this question. He writes that it is sourced in the brachos of Bilaam. In an apparent anthropomorphism the Bais Yaakov posits that just as human speakers may tailor the message to the audience, so too HaShem may, kivyachol, speak words to nevi’ei Yisrael 13; that describe the betterment and welfare of Klal Yisrael. But not because these words, like a formfitting bodysuit, conform to the contours of the thoughts of the Divine Mind, but because, this is what the prophet, as a representative of the Jewish People, who loves his people and desires only their betterment, wants to hear. The prayers of Klal Yisrael, may cause such a message to emanate verbally , kivyachol, from the Divine Mind to the prophet. However Bilaam, in spite of being a bona-fide navi, in many ways Moshe’s peer in prophecy, was also a rabid anti-Semite. Bilaam wanted to curse Klal Yisrael. He collaborated with Balak and spared no effort in attempting to harm and even annihilate Klal Yisrael. The prophecies of many blessings for Klal Yisrael were the very last thing that he wanted to hear from G-d, much less what he wanted to enunciate as a spokesman for G-d. When communicating the many blessings accruing to, and the ultimate redemption of, Klal Yisrael to His prophet Bilaam, HaShem was most certainly not “dressing up” His innermost thoughts in distorting, disingenuous masks and costumes so as to conform to what the audience/ prophet wanted to hear. On the contrary, since these prophecies were decidedly not what the prophet wanted to hear then, by process of elimination, they must have been unalloyed revelations of HaShem’s innermost “thoughts.” If words are the clothing of thought then the words of shlom v’tovas Yisrael14 that Bilaam heard and pronounced were form-fitting body suits that clung to the contours of the Divine Soliloquy like a second skin. Perhaps studying the prophecies of Bilaam is how Dovid overcame his own prophetic limitations to discover what HaShem speaks/ thinks to Himself.
I would humbly add that this may also be implied by the Gemara in Bava Basra 14B that states that “Moshe wrote his book and the passage of Bilaam” implying that in spite of the passage of Bilaam being incorporated into chamishah chumshei Torah15; that there is some qualitative difference between the two. In light of the Izhbiter insight the qualitative difference may be described in these terms: Moshe’s book relates what HaShem spoke, while the passage of Bilaam affords us a glimpse into what HaShem thought, kivyachol. I would also humbly opine that there is no argument between the Izhbitzer school and Rav Chaim Volozhiner regarding Jewish theology. The Divine Mind is ultimately unknowable by even the greatest of human beings or, for that matter, angels. As the Rambam writes: “The Holy Blessed One, recognizes His truth and knows it as it is. He does not know with a knowledge that is extrinsic to Him in the way that we humans know … Were He to … know with a knowledge that is external from Him, there would be many gods, Him, His life, and His knowledge. But this is not so. Instead … you could say, ‘He is the Knower, He is the Known, and He is the Knowledge itself.’ All is one. This matter is beyond the ability of our mouths to relate, [or our] ears to hear, nor is there [the capacity] within the heart of man to grasp it in its entirety.” (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 2:10). Or as Rav Yoseph Albo succinctly put it “If I were to know Him [G-d] I would [perforce] have to BE Him.” As these are inarguable ikarei hadas16; I don’t believe that the Izhbitzer school is taking issue with them. Only G-d knows Himself which is to say, the Divine mind. Nevertheless there are, paradoxically, certain gradations within knowing and understanding hanhagosav Yisbarach that approach some semblance of glimpsing beyond hanhagosav Yisbarach. Per the Izhbitzer school we might say that the prophecies of Bilaam as compared to the prophecies of nevi’ei Yisrael are as the Divine names of Havayah and Ein Soph are to the kinuyim. As the Rambam (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 1:10) explains; even Moshe himself, while his soul was still bound to his limiting corporeal body, was maximally allowed to “see My back, but … not My face." We should approach the teaching of the Izhbitzer school in this spirit. When reading the prophecies of Bilaam we have, at most, been privileged to catch a glimpse of the “back” of the Divine Mind.
Mei Hashiloach I Likutim m’Kesuvim, Tehillim 85 Bais Yaakov al Hatorah U’Moadim, Balak D”H V’yar Nefesh Hachaim2:2 ___________________________________
1. “one [way] in the mouth another in the heart”
2. “a heart that does not reveal to/ through the mouth”
3. human relationships with G-d
4. how G-d conducts, manages and controls His creation; how He interacts and interfaces with it.
5. the Tetragrammaton
6. the Endless One
7. divine “nicknames”
9. He who said to His cosmos “Enough!”
10. Slow to Anger
11. as it were
12. the Jewish People
13. the prophets of Israel
14. the peace and good of Klal Yisrael
15. the five books of Moshe
16. foundational principles of faith