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Rashi in Bamidbar 22:5 addresses Bilam's being a prophet:

"Why did the Holy One rest his Divine Presence upon a wicked gentile? So that the nations of the world should not have an excuse [as to why they didn't serve God]. They would have said, 'If we had prophets, we too would have repented.' So God established prophets for them."

To me this wouldn't seem 'fair'. If the gentiles would want a prophet to help them 'repent' why not establish for them a righteous gentile prophet?

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I don't have a source for this, but I always assumed the idea was not Bilaams personal performance, but rather how the nations interacted with Bilaam. "I gave you a prophet and you asked him to help win wars and deliver curses. Couldn't you have asked him for some directions on how to live a meaningful life?" G-d's response to the unasked question is don't tell me that a prophet will fix you, because look what you think a prophet is for.

  • I agree with this. If you read the verses in numbers, Bilaam had very little backbone. He was very much a servant of the people. They misused him themselves, and despite his protests. – Baby Seal Jan 20 '14 at 19:47
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    Why can't midianite ask for blessing instead of cursing jews? – user4951 Apr 14 '14 at 1:18
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    @JimThio Exactly. They could have done that, but they didn't. Instead all they cared about was wars and delivering curses. – Y     e     z Apr 14 '14 at 4:06
  • Isn't a prophet supposed to be "proactive", instead of waiting for people to ask him for advice? Look at Jonah. – Maurice Mizrahi Jul 14 at 17:09
  • @MauriceMizrahi Moses was never proactive, he waited until people rebel and then sought for a solution. I asked a question "Why wasn't Moses proactive" – Al Berko Jul 14 at 19:10
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Being righteous or not, is up to the individual person. G-d can give a person (i.e. Bilam) the gift of prophecy, but then it is up to him how he uses these gifts. Itro is an example of a gentile that searched very hard, and found the truth. When a person chooses a certain path, and has a strong will to go in that path, he/she get help and assistance to go on that path.

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    Are you saying that if even a wicked man like Bila'am could be "turned around" by the gift of prophecy, no other wicked person would have an excuse? (So, by being a bad man he serves as a good example?) – Monica Cellio Jul 3 '13 at 14:48
  • Bilam didn't curse Israel. So why is he bad again? – user4951 Sep 25 '13 at 5:34
  • Isn't the question asking why Bilaam was the nations' prophet if he was evil? This seems to address how he could be evil and be a prophet. Could you perhaps tie it in more clearly to the question? In any event it is an interesting thought, and quite true I think! – Baby Seal Jan 20 '14 at 19:51
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Rav Chaim Kanievsky is recorded as having asked this question and answered that Bilam was righteous before he was given nevuah and then became a rasha afterward (because of the power the nevuah gave him, i.e. gaavah, kavod etc.) I will try and find the source for this.

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Posibly because when Rashi says 'wicked gentile' he isn't referring to the fact that Bilam himself was evil, but rather to the fact that most gentiles at that point were immoral, in which case one could argue that Bilam was no more evil than the rest of them.

In a similar vein, you could say that Bilam, in order to have had prophecy in the first place, was probably more moral than other non-Jews of the time.

  • Welcome to Mi Yodeya Logan! Thanks for the answer. – mevaqesh Jul 18 '16 at 1:45

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