Home Sweet Home: Balak 2019

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: When have you looked at your life differently because of the perspective of someone outside your immediate social circle? How can an “outsider’s perspective” help us gain valuable insight of our own challenges?

The prophet Balaam may have been hired to curse the Israelites, but some of what he says about our ancestors are as thoughtful as anything we say about ourselves:

The Pitch: “How fair are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel!” – Numbers 24:5

Swing #1: “What is the difference between a true prophet and a false one? The true prophet can be identified in most cases by their scoldings. They point out the blemishes and defects and want to break the measure. The false prophet flatters the people with sweet talk and sees none of the low land. ‘Peace, Peace, everything’s fine and there’s no need for correction.’ But true prophets, genuine loves of the people, they scold. Balaam, however, does not sing from any great love of Israel, even though he has many songs and praises for Israel. On the contrary, he intends to entice Israel so that they will not do anything, so that they will no longer yearn to ascend higher and higher up the ladder. They are absolutely perfect; they are blessed with every good quality. And just this is the difference between him and the prophets of Israel.” – Toldot Yaakov Yosef

Swing #2: “What did Balaam see that caused him to say, ‘How fair are your tents, O Jacob …’? He saw their schools.”  – Targum Yonatan

Swing #3: “Instead of reading ‘your tents’ (mishk’notecha), you might read ‘your forfeits’ (mashkanotecha), for tent and temple were to be forfeited when they sinned.” – Numbers Rabbah

Late-Inning Questions: Even though he says many positive things about the Israelites, Balaam is not looked upon fondly in the Jewish tradition. How much, then, should we take his words to heart? Can infamous people still impart wisdom? Or should we attach a big proverbial asterisk on their words?

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of outside perspectives, many traditional scouts bristle at analytically-based baseball theory, particularly from scholars who never played the game professionally. Is that a fair critique?

Shabbat Shalom!