Photo Credit: wiki

{Originally posted to Rabbi Weinberg’s website, The Foundation Stone}

Hired to perform at an important part of history, Balaam’s stage was before an audience of a few, perhaps only one, Balak, King of Moab, who had hired him to curse the Children of Israel. His earlier performance, when he believed he was alone with his donkey, fell far short of what was expected of a Master Prophet, only for him to be further embarrassed upon seeing an Angel witnessing his poor performance. We see Balaam as a performer; someone whose actions were always directed toward an audience. He was certainly not the Master Prophet when alone with his donkey.

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Now standing atop a mountain with a view of the camp of Israel, he imagined that, as small as was his human audience, God and the Angels were watching a listening. He began his first act with that unseen audience in mind, and spoke for the ages.

 

Balak was displeased with Balaam’s performance. Unable to hear the imagined applause of his unseen audience, hearing the jeers of those around him, Balaam explains, “Is it not so that whatever God puts in my mouth, I must take heed to speak (Numbers 23:12).” Balak was unconvinced. He sensed that Balaam was playing to an audience other than Balak. “Go now with me to a different place from which you will see them, however, you will see its edge but not see all of it, and you will curse for me from there (13).” Balak wanted Balaam to play to a lesser audience. “You will see them… its edge, but not all,” refers to the audience to whom Balaam was performing.

 

Balaam begins his second act by addressing Balak, as if to insist that his performance was for his immediate audience, “Stand erect, O Balak and hear; give ear to me O son of Zippor (18).”

 

Balak was ready to give up, “Neither shall you curse them at all, nor shall you bless them at all (26),” but quickly realizes that he need only find a way for the Master Prophet to satisfy both audiences, the seen, and that which was only in Balaam’s mind. “Go, now, I shall take you to a different place, perhaps it will be proper in the Lord’s eyes that you will curse them for me from there. Balak took Balaam to the summit of the height that overlooks the face of the wasteland (27-28).” Perhaps, teaches the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, if Balaam were to focus on those of Israel who were not righteous as his audience, the Lord would allow Balaam to curse.

 

“Balaam saw that it was good in God’s eyes to bless Israel (24:1),” and he performed only to look good before God, “The words of Balaam, son of Beor, the words of the man with the open eye (3).”

 

Balak was furious. Balaam was defeated in his mind by a greater prophet, Moses, who would record Balaam’s words and shame for eternity, despite not being present at the performances. Rather than perform his blessings or curses, Balaam projected a picture of the future with his ideas in it; he offers his vision of the End of Days (14) with all his hints to Israel’s future failings hidden within his words of praise.

 

Balaam could not overpower the prophecy of Moses because Moses was not a performer. Moses saw his role as building the stage on which his people, present and future, would perform. Balaam may have, at least in his mind, performed before a huge Heavenly audience, but Moses focused on building a huge stage, one on which all of us can perform. Balaam focused on his audience. Moses focused on the stage. Balaam wanted to be the greatest performer. Moses wanted to nurture us into becoming master performers. The curses of the Performer had no effect on those who had a stage of their own on which to play.

 

Independence Day is our celebration of the ability of our Founding Fathers to build a stage on which future generations would perform. They advocated our independent performance. Perhaps the most appropriate way to honor them is to build stages for future generations instead of focusing only on our immediate performance.

 

This Monday night, the 10th of July and Tuesday the 11th, I will observe the 18th Yahrtzeit of my father’s passing. A day does not pass without my remembering an idea he taught, a story, or his mastery of Stage Building. He never taught as a performance. He taught to empower his students to perform on their own. Even when sharing a profound insight, he emphasized how he arrived at his conclusion, treasuring his opportunity to share the process even more than he treasured his ideas.

 

I aspire to emulate him as a Stage Builder. I dream of a world in which parents and children focus on preparing a stage for each child and student to perform as creative, expressive, healthy individuals.

 

May his soul be bound up in the bonds of Eternal Life.

 

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

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