When explaing G-d's command to Balak, in B'midbar 22:38, Bilam says "what G-d places in my mouth is what I shall speak."

In B'midbar 23:12, his phrasing is, "... Whatever G-d places in my mouth is what I will watch to speak." (in Heb. אותו אשמור לדבר) (My own English translation.)

The phrasing in the 2nd verse appears "extra". What does Bilam mean by "watching to speak?" Why not just phrase it similarly to the 1st phrasing? Once G-d has placed words in his mouth, doesn't that imply that he is already speaking and under G-d's control and no longer under his own control, anyway? How can he "watch" what he says at that point?

2 Answers 2


Both statements of Bil'am are responses to complaints made by Balak. The two complaints are slightly different and shed light on the nuance of the answers.

The first complaint comes when Bil'am arrives in Moav after having first refused to go. Balak asks him why he didn't come earlier; "do you think I can't honor you enough?" To this Bil'am responds "even now that I came, how can I speak anything? That which God puts in my mouth, that I speak!"

In other words, Bil'am is justifying his past and potential future silence in light of Balak's demand that he come and say something.

The second complaint comes when Bil'am not only fails to curse the people of Israel, but actually blesses them. Says Balak, "to curse my enemies I took you, and behold you blessed them!"

Here Bil'am needs to justify not silence, but speech. He has to explain the blessing.

Thus he responds "that which Hashem places in my mouth, that I watch to speak." In other words, not only does he not say anything not from Hashem, he is very careful not to suppress anything Hashem puts in his mouth.

This additional point he needs to make here, which he did not need to make earlier when simply asked about his silence.


אשמור means to save or keep, not to watch.

I think the idea is as so:

The first Pasuk is when Balak & Bilam first meet, and Balak complains to Bilam why he didn't come sooner, and Bilam's answer is: So here I am, is that going to help? Whatever G-d puts in my mouth I will say.

The second Pasuk is after Bilam blesses Bney Israel instead of cursing, now Balak's complaint is, that he is paying for one thing, but getting the opposite. So Bilam's answer is: You can be as angry as you want, but whatever G-d puts in my mouth I save to say, meaning even if you pay me I cannot change it.

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