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Balak (Balak) – Numbers 22:2 – 25:9

The Family is the Foundation of Israel​

The story of Balaam and his desire to curse the children of Israel is a fabulous one. At the request of Balak, King of Moab, he tries to curse Israel, but at each opportunity, G-d prevents him from doing so. Finally, without a choice, he blesses the nation of Israel in some of the most beautiful verses in the Bible.  And Balaam lifted up his eyes and he saw Israel camping according to their tribes and the spirit of G-d was upon him. . . . How good are your tents, Jacob, and your dwelling places, Israel.” (Numbers 24:2-5)

The Book of Numbers begins with the national census and the Children of Israel are  counted based on their families, the “houses of their fathers.” This reflects an important development in the nation, for as the families of the Children of Israel become the Nation of Israel, the significant unit of identity is the family.

And indeed, it is this family unity, this dwelling according to their tribes and within their tents that attracts Balaam. Our sages noted that what Balaam actually saw within the camp of Israel was an incredible sense of modesty and respect for each other’s privacy. The openings of the tents were set up in such a way that they did not face the openings of the neighboring tents, allowing each family some minimum degree of privacy. And each tent belonged to a family, for there is holiness in the family unit.

It could not have been easy for millions of people to live in such close quarters and in temporary dwellings for so many years. Although there are numerous accounts in the book of Numbers of the people questioning G-d or of their lack of appreciation for the miracle of their lives, there isn’t a single account of family disputes or neighborly quarrels. And while we can assume that there was a certain amount of this, it clearly was not significant, or it would have been mentioned. Instead, we have Balaam’s account of the goodness of the tents of Israel.

As an outsider, Balaam was attracted to this idea of family harmony, within the context of national unity. This was an idea that was foreign to the Canaanite nations of the time, a culture that was permeated with pagan values and child sacrifice.

Interestingly, there is no indication that the children of Israel knew of Balaam’s attempt to curse Israel and his subsequent blessing of them, for there is no interaction between Balaam and the Children of Israel at any part of the story. Balaam stands upon the mountains of Moab and views the new nation from afar without their awareness. And what he sees is a blessing.

Throughout the centuries, the Jewish family has been the basis of the continued existence of our nation. Father and Mother take it upon themselves to teach their children the heritage of our forefathers and the teachings of the Bible. Family meals have also been a key element in the celebration of the Biblical holidays. Marriage and children are key values in Judaism, way beyond the personal enjoyment that prodigy can bring. It is the family unit that has enabled us to preserve our heritage and our uniqueness. 

The Jews are frequently concerned with how they are viewed by the world. Our traditions and our faith are different from others and we tend to fear the worse among those who view us from afar. But Balaam taught us an important lesson — if we stay true to those values we inherited from our forefathers, we will always be blessed. For even those who would curse us, will have no choice but to bless us.

And Balaam echoes G-d’s promise to Abraham:Blessed are those who bless you and cursed are those who curse you.” (Numbers 24:9)

Shabbat Shalom From Samaria,



Sondra Oster Baras
Director, Israel Office

3 thoughts on “Balak (Balak) – Numbers 22:2 – 25:9”

  1. I have a strong interest in the Balaam narrative. It is fascinating how he tries to curse Israel but ends up blessing them! However, further on he advised Balak to entice Israel into the ‘curse’ by connecting them up with Moabite women and thus diluting and seriously compromising Israel’s integrity. My understanding of the Biblical narrative of Israel’s early history, this has consistently been Israel’s undoing, right up to the Babylonian captivity. Always for those of us who centre our life philosophy around the Scriptures, this gap between learning and ‘doing’ has, in a sense, been our ‘undoing’. The final quote remains utterly the same throughout all history: those who curse Israel will themselves be cursed. Do we not ‘get it’ in the western world? I wonder!

  2. Interesting to re-read this teaching. Events have progressed since this was last aired, and it is clear that the UN and the EU have, through the ICC and the UN have become increasingly hostile to Israel. Yet Balaam, who was employed to curse Israel ends up blessing Israel! This might hopefully encourage Jews whether inside or outside Israel to know that, even though the nations want to curse Israel, yet Israel remains blest. Also note that there is nothing much down for the nations who curse Israel. They have not even got the very basic ‘wisdom’ of Balaam! How stupid are these crazy nations …. including the UK?!

  3. Always blessed by your teachings, Sonja. My daughter and Son in Love have 10 children HaShem has blessed our family !! Their little personalities bring joy and happiness to our lives!!


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