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.
This portion begins with two verses that set forth exactly who is part of the rebellious group: “Now Korach the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben took men. And they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men.” (Numbers 16:1-2)
Moses sends the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel to check out the land of Israel, to investigate its people and evaluate their strength or weakness, to taste the fruits and crops and determine the fertility of the land.
With the opening verse of Chapter 11, everything begins to crash. The nation complains repeatedly and is punished. Miriam speaks ill of her brother and his wife and is punished. And then, of course, comes the sin of the spies…
Thus shall you bless the children of Israel, it is to be said to them: May G-d bless you and keep you, May G-d shine His face upon you and be gracious to you, May G-d turn His face to you and grant you peace.
To this day, all first-born sons to a Jewish mother are ‘redeemed’ in a special ceremony which represents the divine statement that the Nation of Israel is holy.
The child of a mixed marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew will always be confused, will lack a clear identity and will have trouble relating to God.
The thrust of the chapter is the expectation of holiness in our dealings with our fellow man. For it is through our relationships with our fellow human beings, through acts of compassion and charity, that we can indeed become holy
G-d does not treat gossip lightly. As men and women, created in His image, we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves and to treat everyone with respect. This includes not maligning them, even in a light, gossipy way.