Does anyone know of a convincing explanation of Hashem's behaviour with Bilam? It looks like He couldn't be more inconprehensible if He tried.

First, He starts off by refusing to allow Bilam to go at all. Then after merely being asked again, He allows him to go so long as he recognises that he will have to say what Hashem forces him to say. Then, having allowed him to go, He sends an angel to kill Bilam. For some reason, the angel doesn't actually do this and after Bilam asks whether he should go back, the angel again allows him to go.

What is going on with Hashem? If He didn't want Bilam to go originally, why did He change His mind simply by being asked again? If He didn't care whether Bilam went because He would put the right words in Bilam's mouth, why did He refuse originally? After having allowed Bilam to go, why send an angel to kill him? After having specially sent an angel, why didn't the angel actually do its job and kill him? And after going to all this trouble to intercept him after having giving him permission, why just allow Bilam to carry on as before? The angel doesn't seem to have achieved anything?!

  • welcome user12991! Your question is very consistent. Thank you for it. I have not an answer, but I have an idea. Prophecy is what a man can perceive from Hashem. A man has a part of inconsistency, and changes. Hashem has no change. The changing is from the side of the recipient of the prophecy. Speaking and writing about Hashem is never something of literal. If the interlocutor of Bil'am was a man, he would be inconsistant. – kouty Jul 21 '16 at 12:56
  • Offhand, I understood that the initial consent from G-d is in the verse itself - "If these people have called for you, then go." I.e. - permission was given to Bilam to go to Balak b/c hew was the king and he requested him to come. Granted, the 1st time, Bilam refused, b/c he was motivated by the money and the offer wasn't big enough. 2nd offer was bigger. But G-d says, go only to respect the king's request to come, not b/c the money is your motivator. – DanF Jul 21 '16 at 14:34
  • This is addressed here: theyeshiva.net/item/117?beta=true&s=cvideo – Menachem Jul 21 '16 at 16:41
  • In short, G-d gave boundaries to what balaam could do and balaam kept trying to exceed them (based on memory. Haven't heard the shiur in a couple years) – Menachem Jul 21 '16 at 16:42

Rabbi Reisman points out that Ramban states that Balaam was not really a navi, but was attempting to use his magic to set himself up as one. Hashem's reaction to this was to give him the opportunity to raise himself to the highest level that he could. Balaam refused to take advantage of the opportunities that he was given and at each choice, was given a chance at the lower level that he reached.

Rav Hirsch among others explains that if someone insists on trying to disobey Ahashem's will, Hashem will allow him to destroy himself. For example, in the explanation of Balak 22:12-13 Rav Hisrch points out


Now had Balaam been a prophet of the Truth he would faithfully have transmitted this declaration of Hashem to the envoys of Balak and the purpose of Hashem's intervention would have been achieved without the whole following episode. Balak, andMoav, instead of fearing the attacking and conquering might of this People, would have been induced to know the moral factor which was innate in it to which Hashem had promised His blessing and to befriend them to their own advantage. But


Balaam suppressed the second part, the really essential part of Hashem's warning. He just speaks in general terms מאן השם, which forthwith allows it to be understood tat he himself would be pleased to curse the people, only מאן השם לתתי להלוך עמכם, the Hashem Whose prophet I am does not finnd it befitting for me to go with you. After all, they were only, as remarked above, זקני מואב not שרי מואב, only plebeans, not really princes.

As a result of this,

Balak knew his man and did not let himself be put off from his by the first refusal

As a result of Balaam attempting to work around Hashem, Hashem says, that if it for your personal honor that they came for you, go ahead and try to go with them. However, do not forget that you were categorically forbidden to curse the Bnai Yisrael, even though you hid that from Moav.


We have already remarked on verses 16 & 17 that Balak's request had two points (a) that Balaam come at his invitation and (b) that he curses Israel. For the first part he was given permission, regarding the second part, whic constituded the real intended purpose of Balak, it had in verse 12, already at the first mission had been peremptorily denied to him.

As we see, Hashem is telling Balaam that if he insists on going, he will only be able to convey the blessing, the exact opposit of what Balak inteds.

The question now arises, why was Hashem angry? The reason given by Rav Hisrsch is that while Balaam was given permission to go with the messengers (אתם) he actually went with the intention to somehow bring about their purpose.


not כי הלך that he went with Balak's messengers, ... But he did not just go with them, הולך הוא, he was "goer" with them, one striving to reach his own end. In spite of the definite warning he had received from Hashem, his mind was still obscured by the obsession that he would be able to achieve the purpose so desired by Balak and himself.

As a result, the מלאך is sent to point out the result of what he is attempting to do. It is actually a final attempt to show mercy to Balaam and get him do do teshuvah.


The Malbim says something really fascinating. If you look closely at the text, Gd says you can go with them and uses the word אתכם. However, בלעם goes עמכם. He explains the difference as אתכם means I tag along - I go with body, but not with mind. Gd said you can go but not with the intention to curse. בלעם went עם - he went unified in body and mind with the goal to curse the Jews. That’s why he was punished.


R. Saadia Gaon (Emunot V'Deiot 3:9) explains that there was no contradiction between God's two statements to Bilam:

The sixth [uncertainty arises from] God's injunction to Balaam in regard to the emissaries of Balak: Thou shalt not go with them (Num. 22:12) and his [counter-]order to him later on: Go with them (Num. 22:20). But this, too, did not constitute an abrogation, because the people he went with were not the same as those with whom God had forbidden him to go. For Scripture states: And Balak sent yet again princes, more, and more honorable than they (Num. 22:15). God had, then, kept him from going with the base and given him leave to go with the distinguished emissaries, in order thereby to enhance Balaam's esteem, so that it might be said that God had delivered the children from the yoke of so-and-so of exalted station.

(Rosenblatt translation p. 169-170)

Ralbag also explains that God did not change his mind about whether Bilam could go or not. He explains that Bilam misunderstood the words 'Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people; for they are blessed.' to mean that he couldn't go at all, when in reality God only meant that he couldn't go to curse them. Thus, the second time Balak sent emissaries God clarified that Bilam could go but he would only be able to do what God would say:

ר"ל אם הם רוצים לקרוא לך שתבוא אצל בלק קום לך אתם אך לא תלך שם לקוב את העם כמו ששואל בלק אך את הדבר אשר אדבר אליך אותו תעשה ואמנם אמר לו כך כי תחילה אמר לו ה' ית' לא תלך עמהם לא תאר את העם כי ברוך הוא וחשב בלעם מזה המאמר שה' ית' מנע ממנו ההליכה עמהם אע"פ שלא יאור את העם ולזה אמר אל שרי מואב כי מאן ה לתתי להלֹך עמכם ולזה אמר לו עתה שאינו מונע ממנו ההליכה אל בלק אך מונע ממנו מה ששאל ממנו לקוב את העם

Ralbag further explains that the encounter with the angel did not happen in real life. Rather, that night after God told him to go Bilam had a vision/dream in which he saw himself going, but since he was going with the intent to harm Israel – contrary to God's command – an angel came to threateningly remind him that he was not allowed to go to harm Israel, but only to do as God would say:

והנראה בעינינו לפי השרשים האמיתיים הנראים מדברי הנביאים ומן העיון שזה הספור היה ענין שקרה לבלעם במראה הנבואה כמו הענין בספור לקיחת הושע גמר בת דבלים ושאר מה שנמשך בספור ההוא אשר הוא בהכרח דבר נראה לו במראה הנבואה לא דבר שקרה והנה נדמה לבלעם בחלומו של נבואה שכבר היה לילה כשבאהו דבר ה' ית' במה שאמר לו אם לקרא לך באו האנשים קום לך אתם ואחר זה נדמה לו בחלומו שהיה בקר ושהוא קם וחבש את אתונו והלך עם שרי מואב כי כן היתה הסכמתו אם היה מקיץ לפי שאין מראין לו לאדם אלא מהרהורי לבו ולזה תמצא כי תכונות האדם בחלומו הם מתיחסות לתכונותיו בהקיץ והנה סבב ה' יתעלה שיקרה לו בהליכתו מה שהורה לו שלא הסכימו מן השמים שילך שם לתכלית אשר הוא פונה אליו כי היה דעתו על כל פנים להשתדל להזיק לישראל לפי היכולת ולזה ספר שקרה לו זה המקרה כי האתון נטתה מן הדרך והלכה בשדה וכאשר הכה בלעם אותה להטותה הדרך נלחצה אל הקיר ולחצה רגל בלעם אל הקיר ושב להכותה ואחר זה רבצה תחתיו ושב להכותה ונדמה לו בחלומו כאילו פתח ה' ית' את פי האתון ודברה עמו שתי פעמים והוא השיב לה כדבר איש לאיש אחר ואחר נראה לו המלאך ונתבאר לו מדברי המלאך בחלומו שנטית האתון מן הדרך היתה מפני ראותה מלאך ה' והנה אמר אם רע בעיניך אשובה לי לפי שהיה דומה לו שכבר החזיק בדרך ובא לו הצווי שנית שילך עם האנשים אך לא ידבר רק מה שידבר אליו ה' ית' וזה כולו היה מהשגחת ה' ית' על ישראל כמו שזכרנו כי זה היה הראוי שיוסיף אימה לבלעם מעבור את פי ה' ית' בהשתדלותו לגרום נזק לישראל

Thus, according to Ralbag, God's position remained consistent throughout the entire episode.

Ibn Kaspi explains that God's permission to go wasn't entirely permission, as God said it "in an angry tone". There is no contradiction to God's anger later flaring up when Bilam went, since God had really been angry about it the entire time:

נפשנו קצה באריכות קדמוני המפרשים ואומר כי התבאר בספרי הפלוסופים ויותר בספר ההטעאה כי הדבור האחד יש לו הוראות מתנגדות מצד הערת המדבר אם ברצוי אם בהפכו ורבים כן בכל המקרא כמ״ש על דרך משל מי האומר שאול ימלך עלינו ולכן נאמר מפי סופרים ולא מפי ספרים לכן אף על פי שאמר השם לבלעם קודם לך אתם היתה צורת הדבור בצאתו מפיו דרך כעס והעדר הרצוי והעד ויחד אף אלהים כי הולך הוא

As for the altercation with the angel, Ibn Kaspi explains that it was to show Bilam that if God wanted to He could easily stop Bilam from going altogether, but he could also allow him to go and then still prevent him from doing anything negative to Israel:

היה זה בתנומה כי התנמנם בלעם עת מה ברכבו כמנהג רבים מבני אדם כל שכן בעבור שהשכים בבוקר והכה לבו אותו על מהלכו לאותות כבר ראה במניעה הראשונה וגם במראה השנית כי הסתפק בדבור השם לו קום לך אתם באי זה צורה נאמר עד כי נשקע ישן או מתנמנם בזה הענין והגיע לו כל הדמיון הנזכר והנה אלו רצה השם למנעו על כל פנים ככר עשה זה אך רצה השם להראות לו ולעמים כי יש לאל ידו למנעו לגמרי וגם להתיר [הליכתו] ולמנעו מהדבור הרע לכן סיים המלאך ואמר לו (לה) לך עם האנשים לשון פיוס ורצוי

This again resolves the apparent contradiction in the angel's actions in addition to God's.

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