Parshat Balak: The Seer

Balaam said to Balak, “And now that I have come to you, can I speak freely?  I will only utter what God puts in my mouth.” (Numbers 22:38)

Balaam, who has been hired to curse Israel, stands in sharp contrast with Balak.* He “can only utter what God puts into [his] mouth.”  He is, however, no mere neutral observer, but a witness, increasingly attracted to the God’s-eye view of Israel he is privileged to receive.  “May I die the death of the upright,” declares Balaam.  “May my fate be like theirs.” (23:10)

*That is, Balaam as he appears in this section of the story, 22:39-23:36.  The episode with the ass (22:21-35) interposes negative elements into what is otherwise a positive portrait.  Milgrom persuasively argues that two different traditions have been combined in the final version of the Book of Numbers.

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