When Balak summons Bilam, he says, "For I know that whomever you bless will be blessed and whomever you curse shall be cursed." This implies that Balak understood that Bilam's main strength was in blessing people, and the secondary strength was in cursing.

If that's the case, and he feared the Israelites, why didn't he request Bilam to bless him and his own nation Mo'av to be successful and to feel safe against the Israelites, if he feared their conquering him. Or, if they were to wage war, he could have asked Bilam to bless Moav with the ability to win the battle? Why, instead to he resort to Bilam's ability to curse?

In his weekly drasha. my rav used this to explain / prove the historical "focus" that anti-Semites have had for millennia. IMO, that makes for a nice drasha, but it doesn't explain, really, this situation. I don't think Balak was motivated to destroy Israel because of hatred. It seems that he feared their overtaking his land, even though, we know that God had told Israel not to wage war against Moav. (See parshat Devarim.)

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    "This implies that Balak understood that Bilam's main strength was in blessing people, and the secondary strength was in cursing." I don't see any such implication.
    – Double AA
    Jul 21, 2019 at 3:23
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    @DoubleAA he means one of the usual inferences: since Balak mentioned blessing first it would seem that Balak believed blessing was the more important of the two. The question is great without that though. Jul 21, 2019 at 5:06
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    @DavidKenner Maybe he saved best for last? This isn't inference. It's just making things up.
    – Double AA
    Jul 21, 2019 at 5:10
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    I remember having read something in Artscroll that he knew that Bileam could identify the moments, when Hashem would judge people more severely (see in Berakhot). Jul 21, 2019 at 6:42
  • It seems that you rephrase the Midrash that asks "the Gentiles were given Bilam and what did they do with it?" But it doesn't offer options for what benefits Bilam could do for them.
    – Al Berko
    Jul 21, 2019 at 6:46

3 Answers 3


The Midrash (B'midbar Rabba 20:7) implies that Balak truly believed in Bil'am's power to bless because Bil'am had previously proclaimed that Balak would become king (per the interpretation of the Maharz"u ad loc. and Or HaChaim, B'midbar 22:6).

Accordingly, the Chofetz Chaim would comment that Balak's choice illustrated his wickedness and spitefulness, that he preferred to curse another rather than bless himself (related in Chafetz Chayim 'Al HaTorah).


According to the Gemara (Brachot 7a) Bilaam's main power was in his knowledge of the precise time of day when Hashem judges sinners ("becomes angry"). By cursing someone at that time, Bilaam could cause the Midat Hadin to bring judgement against the person he cursed. In other words, Bilaam did not have the power to bless.

According to Sforno, Balak was well aware of this, so he did not request a blessing. He flattered Bilaam by saying he could bless in order to make him more likely to to accept his request.

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    Then why was Balak so angry when Bilam pseudo blessed the Jews?
    – Double AA
    Jul 21, 2019 at 13:10
  • @doubleaa balak was angry Bilaam did'nt curse the Jews. It happened to be that he blessed the Jews. Anyway Achiya hashiloni's curse was more valuable to the Jews than Bilaams blessings which all turned to curses when the Jews sinned except for 1
    – user15464
    Jul 28, 2019 at 20:08
  • @user no the opposite. Balak is more angry that he blessed them. He says גַּם-קֹב לֹא תִקֳּבֶנּוּ; גַּם-בָּרֵךְ, לֹא תְבָרְכֶנּוּ meaning "I'd be fine if you didn't curse then so long as you don't bless them"
    – Double AA
    Jul 28, 2019 at 20:14

Balak knew that Bilaam held the power of blessing and curses from personal experience. His nation, Moav, was on the receiving end of a curse from Bilaam when they fought against Sichon.

Rashi to Devarim 21:27:

על כן. עַל אוֹתָהּ מִלְחָמָה שֶׁנִּלְחַם סִיחוֹן בְּמוֹאָב:

על כן (more lit., about this) — about this war which Sihon waged against Moab,

באו חשבון. שֶׁלֹּא הָיָה סִיחוֹן יָכוֹל לְכָבְשָׁהּ וְהָלַךְ וְשָׂכַר אֶת בִּלְעָם לְקַלְּלוֹ (תנחומא); וְזֶהוּ שֶׁאָמַר לוֹ בָּלָק "כִּי יָדַעְתִּי אֵת אֲשֶׁר תְּבָרֵךְ מְבֹרָךְ" וְגוֹ' (במדבר כ"ב):

באו חשבון “COME TO HESHBON”, — For Sihon had been unable to capture it, and he went and hired Balaam to curse it, and this is the meaning of what Balak said, (Numbers 22:6) “For I know (by what has already happened) that whomsoever thou blessest is blessed, [and whomsoever thou cursest is cursed]” (Midrash Tanchuma, Chukat 24).

As Moav was already cursed, a blessing wouldn't have helped and the only option was to curse the Jews as well.

[I will edit in a source when I get a chance].

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