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In Bava Basra 14b, a ברייתא is quoted as saying "Moshe wrote his book (i.e. the Pentateuch), Parashat Bil'am, and [the Book of] Iyov." Why did the ברייתא even raise the issue of Moshe's authorship of Parashat Bil'am?

Does "Parashat Bil'am" in the ברייתא refer to Parashat Balak, which speaks of Bil'am, or another book? If so, do we know more about this book?

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Recall that Bilam's level of prophecy rivaled -- and possibly surpassed -- Moshe's. It's been suggested that the whole episode is one giant paragraph because usually the paragraph breaks were there to give Moshe time to digest; but Bilam's was beyond what he could understand. Hence the Gemara is saying that while Bilam's prophecy was higher, Moshe was still given a transmission to record (even if he didn't necessarily comprehend it). – Shalom Jun 12 '13 at 18:27
@Shalom according to reb solaveitchik... – MoriDoweedhYaa3qob Jun 12 '13 at 19:04
@double-aa did you learn bout that yourself or did you watch the naked archeologist to found out bout that one? m.youtube.com/watch?v=NHXksyaYIqA it is good stuff. I love this guy. Check out his site and all the other shows he did too. – MoriDoweedhYaa3qob Jun 12 '13 at 23:31
@mori never seen that show before. – Double AA Jun 13 '13 at 1:29
up vote 6 down vote accepted

R. Menachem Mendel Kasher, in Torah Shelaima (vol. 19 pg. 363) quotes several answers:

  1. Ein Yaakov (Peirush): this is to tell us that despite not being involved in any of the Bilaam story, Moshe was still told this story in all of its details exactly how it was written in the Chumash, and it has a similar status as Sefer Devarim, in that Moshe wasn't told about it before it happened that it would be written down, but only afterwords did God tell him to put it in the Torah. (R. Kasher says that this is also mentioned by the Chosam Sofer in Teshuvah Y.D. 356, where he describes that while the entire Jewish people were witness to all the events described in the Torah from Sefer Shemos onwards, they didn't know about this one, so one might have suspected Moshe of making it up, ch"v)

  2. Rashi there explains that Parshas Balak was singled out because "isn't needed for Moshe or his Torah". The Shelah explains that Rashi means that the story surrounding these prophecies were unnecessary, since Moshe really could have told them all himself being the greatest prophet (and knowing everything known to Bilaam), but because God wanted to put these blessings in the mouth of Yisrael's enemy, the prophecies came about through this story that eventually got placed in the Torah.

  3. Ritva and R. Menachem Tzioni: the 'Parshas Bilaam' that the Gemara is referring to is actually something other than the record of the story that is contained in the Torah. Rather it was something only relevant for its time (perhaps other prophecies that were made by Bilaam), but has since been lost, and hasn't been included in the Tanakh canon at all.

  4. Maharil Diskin in the last page of his teshuvos (and it's quoted in full by Rav Shach in Avi Ezri to Hil. Yesodei HaTorah because he liked it so much) explains that, unlike everything else in Toras Moshe, the words of Bilaam's prophecies were already spoken once to a human being, to Bilaam, which is not true regarding any other prophecy in the Torah (other than those told to Moshe) because only Bilaam and Moshe reached these higher levels of prophecy where God spoke to them with clear words. (An idea similar to this one is found in Nefesh Harav of R. Hershel Schachter)

  5. Nachlas Yaakov (in the Ein Yaakov) says that since the all of the conversations between Bilaam and Balak were in their own foreign language, 'Moshe wrote it' in a way different than the rest of the Torah where he was (al pi Hashem) recording what was happening - here, he was also translating. While that's probably true of many other statements or conversations in the Torah that the words in the Torah are actually a translation (such as when Yosef speaks to his brothers before revealing himself, which the Torah attests was done through a translator), perhaps Parshas Bilaam was singled out because it was an entire parsha written in such a way.

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I'm switching my acceptance (which I had just made today) for your excellent, though tardy, answer. Good job. Sorry Ofer. – Bruce James Dec 23 '14 at 15:42
@BruceJames well, considering that this question was asked before I registered for judaism.SE, I'm glad you're not penalizing me for tardiness.... – Matt Dec 23 '14 at 15:46
You might get a necromanceer or reviver badge from it, too. That and $5 will get you an espresso at Starbucks. Enjoy. – Bruce James Dec 23 '14 at 15:48
Probably not revival -- it wasn't the first answer with a score of two....but let's hope for necromancer. @BruceJames. – Shokhet Dec 23 '14 at 16:39

Parashath Bilaam is written with stories that Mosha Rabbeinu never experienced, for example the story with the donkey, no one was there but the donkey bilaam and the maloch. Also the sacrifices and such is from the perspective of bilaam and not Mosha Rabbeinu. Therefore, the gamoro in BB is saying that Mosha Rabbeinu did write it even though the perspective is not from Banei Yisroel but an outside source.

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Moshe didn't experience any of sefer B'reishit either. – Monica Cellio Jun 12 '13 at 18:15
This sounds reasonable, +1. Did you make it up, or do you have a source for it? – msh210 Jun 12 '13 at 18:15
@MonicaCellio, but he could have heard about it from those who did. Not (easily) so with Bil'am. – msh210 Jun 12 '13 at 18:15
Not as easily, but Bilaam does make another appearance, and there was all the contact with the Moabites (Balak's people). Or, as with B'reishit, God could have told him. – Monica Cellio Jun 12 '13 at 18:17
Elazar meets bilam when at war with midyan. Perhaps they schmoozed. – Double AA Jun 12 '13 at 18:43

Levi Ginsburg in his commentary to the Yerushalmi explains that apparently there were people who claimed that the story of Bilaam was not realy part of the Torah but was added to it from an external source (he brings proof that such a claim existed from other sources in Chazal). Therefore, Chazal wanted to refute this and said that Moshe Rabbeinu wrote this as well and it is indeed part of the Torah.

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Interesting. It would make sense that people would think this is from outside sources because there is definitely concurrence with the Bilaam of other local mythologies as @DoubleAA referenced – Charles Koppelman Jun 18 '13 at 19:17
I accepted your answer this morning, but then Matt came out with a better answer, and I've switched it. Sorry about that. I'm fickle enough that if you greatly improve your answer, I might decide to switch again. ;-) – Bruce James Dec 23 '14 at 15:43
No problem. His answer is very good. – Ofer Livnat Jan 7 '15 at 7:02

Maharil Diskind (based on the Rambam in Shemoneh Perakim) explains it like this:

A prophet experiences prophecy through the channel of his personality. Therefore, no two prophets ever prophesize with the same style (Sanhedrin 89a). Every prophet puts the stamp of his/her own personality on their prophecy. However, Moshe Rabbeinu saw the prophecy directly, unadulterated. This is expressed in the gemara's analogy that all other prophets saw through a dim lens, while Moshe saw through a bright lens (Yevamos 49b)- their lenses were tinted with their own personalities, while Moshe saw the pure prophetic image/message.

There was one other exception. Sifri Devarim 357:10:

ולא קם נביא עוד בישראל כמשה בישראל לא קם אבל באומות העולם קם. ואיזה זה? זה בלעם בן בעור

-no prophet rose up among the Jews like Moshe (Devarim 34:10), but among the nations there did arise, and who was it? Bilaam . Bilaam was given the "gift" of pure prophecy as well. (This was because his personality was so filthy that it was impossible to give him prophecy through the conduit of his personality, and in order to give him the prophecy that blessed the Jewish people, it had to circumvent his personal imprint on it.)

Therefore, when Moshe wrote the entire Torah, the prophecies that Adam had experienced, the prophecies that Avraham had experienced, and everyone before him, it was the original presentation of that prophecy in it's purest form. It was his own book because he was the one writing it as a pure expression of the prophecy for the first time. However, the prophecy of Bilaam wasn't Moshe's original work - it had already been prophesized, in it's pure accurate form, by Bilaam.

Therefore, when he wrote down the prophecy of Bilaam, he was just copying it over, restating what had already been stated.

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