Bits of Torah Truths, פרשת בלק, Parashat Balak, Does Seeing and Hearing really cause Us to “Know” Him?
In this week’s Torah portion we read the following, וַיִּשָּׂא מְשָׁלוֹ וַיֹּאמַר נְאֻם בִּלְעָם בְּנוֹ בְעֹר וּנְאֻם הַגֶּבֶר שְׁתֻם הָעָיִן: 24:15 He took up his theme, and said: Word of Balaam son of Beor, Word of the man whose eye is true, נְאֻם שֹׁמֵעַ אִמְרֵי-אֵל וְיֹדֵעַ דַּעַת עֶלְיוֹן מַחֲזֵה שַׁדַּי יֶחֱזֶה נֹפֵל וּגְלוּי עֵינָיִם: 24:16 Word of him who hears God’s speech, Who obtains knowledge from the Most High, And beholds visions from the Almighty, Prostrate, but with eyes unveiled: אראנו ולא עתה אשורנו ולא קרוב דרך כוכב מיעקב וקם שבט מישראל ומחץ פאתי מואב וקרקר כל־בני־שת 24:17 What I see for them is not yet, What I behold will not be soon: A star rises from Jacob, A scepter comes forth from Israel; It smashes the brow of Moab, The foundation of all children of Seth. והיה אדום ירשה והיה ירשה שעיר איביו וישראל עשה חיל 24:18 Edom becomes a possession, Yea, Seir a possession of its enemies; But Israel is triumphant. וירד מיעקב והאביד שריד מעיר 24:19 A victor issues from Jacob To wipe out what is left of Ir. וירא את־עמלק וישא משלו ויאמר ראשית גוים עמלק ואחריתו עדי אבד 24:20 He saw Amalek and, taking up his theme, he said: A leading nation is Amalek; But its fate is to perish forever. וירא את־הקיני וישא משלו ויאמר איתן מושבך ושים בסלע קנך 24:21 He saw the Kenites and, taking up his theme, he said: Though your abode be secure, And your nest be set among cliffs, כי אם־יהיה לבער קין עד־מה אשור תשבך 24:22 Yet shall Kain be consumed, When Asshur takes you captive. וישא משלו ויאמר אוי מי יחיה משמו אל 24:23 He took up his theme and said: Alas, who can survive except God has willed it! וצים מיד כתים וענו אשור וענו־עבר וגם־הוא עדי אבד 24:24 Ships come from the quarter of Kittim; They subject Asshur, subject Eber. They, too, shall perish forever. ויקם בלעם וילך וישב למקמו וגם־בלק הלך לדרכו (פ) 24:25 Then Balaam set out on his journey back home; and Balak also went his way. It is interesting to read what Bilam (בלעם) says after having gone with Balak and blessing Israel. He claims to hear God’s speech, to seeing visions, and having eyes wide open (unveiled). For a man who claims that he hears from the Lord God Almighty, he sees visions of God, and has eyes wide open, he sure has no problem leading Israel into sin at Baal Peor. The point that we take away from this is that we can see God, we may even hear from Him, however, this does not imply that we really and truly “know” Him! This is a very important Torah centric concept! This is the Torah principle that Yeshua taught concerning having eyes to see and ears to hear. One may have eyes having seen (miracles) and ears having heard (God’s Word) but not have a heart to put the truth into action. It is at the heart each of us must seek for the Lord to work so that we can know Him and walk in His Ways! This seems to be the take-away truth of Bilam’s words here at the closing of Parashat Balak.
The rabbis comment upon these things in the following way.
Chizkuni, Numbers 24:16 Part 1
ויודע דעת עליון, “and who knows the knowledge of the Most High;” he knows that it is not “G-d’s intention to have the Israelites cursed as long as they are not guilty of trespasses.
Chizkuni, Numbers 24:16 Part 2
מחזה שדי יחזה, “and who sees the Vision of the Almighty.” He sees Him both when he is reposing and when he is fully awake with both eyes. In other words, Bileam boasts of having prophetic insights both at night and by day.
Rashi on Numbers 24:16 Part 1
וידע דעת עליון WHO KNOWETH THE MIND OF THE MOST HIGH — i.e., who knoweth to determine the precise moment when He is angry. (The meaning of the text is: “who knoweth His state of mind”, not, ”who knoweth his thoughts”) (Sanhedrin 105b).
The rabbis comment upon “knowing the mind of God.” Chizkuni says we do know God’s intention based upon the Torah, Israel cannot be cursed as long as they are not guilty of sin. Bilam boasts that he sees the Lord having prophetic insights in both the night (darkness / unrighteousness) and during the day (light / righteousness). The Hebrew text states, וְיֹדֵעַ דַּעַת עֶלְיוֹן “and who knows the knowledge/mind of the Most High?” Note how the word yodea (ְיֹדֵעַ) is written in the defective form as opposed to the full form (יודע). This teaches us how man’s knowledge is defective, it falls short. Rashi describes this saying “who knoweth” meaning that one may know the “state of mind” as opposed to the “thoughts” of God. We can know what God wants for our lives by learning what the Lord has said in His Word. We model ourselves after the Lord and as we do this and as we walk in His ways this begins to change our relationship with God drawing us to a deeper connectedness. If you feel your relationship with God is lacking, this is how we begin to change our relationship with the Lord taking our faith to a deeper place. We begin by changing ourselves. In any healthy relationship, when we change, our partner changes. This is how the Scriptures (the Torah) describes our relationship with the Lord. (see the last few chapters of Sefer Devarim / Deuteronomy) The Lord demonstrated to us from the beginning how precious He considers our lives and so drawing us closer, and gives us the motivation to become exemplars of what it means to be the children of God. Discipleship means learning to acknowledge God in all we do. This takes a lot of training. This process of acknowledging the Lord in all we do, our training in this matter is never complete, but is a life long process. When we start doing this, our fears and anxiety disappear because the Lord is with us. We stop guessing ourselves and lambasting ourselves because we didn’t do it right. We get back up in repentance, seek the Lord’s forgiveness, and try again. This is the way of a loving God. Because of God’s forgiveness and mercy, we are able to take this message of God’s Messiah to the world, and to be a light to the world and salt of the earth.
Some Jewish commentaries consider these words of Bilam prophetic of the Messiah. Or HaChaim on Bamidbar / Numbers 24:17 Part 1 states, “The entire prophecy concerns the Messiah and is best understood in light of Sanhedrin 98 where the Talmud discusses the meaning of the apparently contradictory prophecy בעתה אחישנה, “at its appointed time I will hasten it” (Isaiah 60,22). The Talmud explains that the timing of the arrival of the Messiah depends on the conduct of the Jewish people.” The idea here follows what is written in Midrash Rabbah on Devarim / Deuteronomy Parashat 2, Part 23 which states, “if the Israelites were to become truly penitent they will be redeemed immediately even if they had spent only a single day in exile. They base this on the verse: “G’d will answer you on the DAY you are in trouble” (Tehillim / Psalms 20,2).” What this teaches us is whether we have settled down at a place in our faith and walk before God and become complacent. It is at this place that one may turn to profane the name of God. We must daily take hold of God’s Word and live repentant lives before Him. Daat Zkenim states “It is well known that whenever the Torah commences a paragraph with the word: וישב, what follows is some kind of disaster.” (see Daat Zkenim on Bamidbar / Numbers 25:1 Part 1) The word וישב speaks of sitting down in place and resting. Daat Zkenim provides examples of Jacob (Bereshit / Genesis 37:1) and Joseph (Bereshit / Genesis 50:22), and when Israel is described as having settled down in Egypt (Bereshit / Genesis 47:27) it is followed by the report of Jaocb’s sickness and death. In the Tanach, Judah had settled down securely which is then followed by a report that God caused a revolt by the king of Edom (1 Kings 5:5 and 11:14). The basic conclusion is when one settles down (וישב) destruction is near. The point that we take away from this is that are always to be on guard, to guard our hearts, our minds, and our faith. We can see God, we may even hear from Him, but does seeing and hearing really cause us to “know” Him? This important Torah centric concept is the guiding principle leading us understand the meaning of “to walk in God’s ways is to know Him.” This is the “walk in another man’s foot steps (shoes) analogy.” This is the point of Yeshua saying we to our being called to walk in the footsteps of the Messiah meaning to Walk in His Torah (Instruction)! By believing in the Messiah (Yeshua), walking in God’s Ways, seeking Him, His Mercy, His Forgiveness, we are able to get on with the work the Lord God Almighty has appointed us to do and to become the people that He has intended us to become.