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The first time Bilaam attempts to curse Bnei Yisrael, he tells Balak to build seven mizbachot and to sacrifice a ram and cow on each one. The pasuk then tells us in Bamidbar 23:2 that וַיַּ֣עַשׂ בָּלָ֔ק כַּֽאֲשֶׁ֖ר דִּבֶּ֣ר בִּלְעָ֑ם, and Balak did like Bilaam spoke. However, the third time that Bilaam attempts to curse Bnei Yisrael, he gives Balak the exact same instructions, but the pasuk there in Bamidbar 23:30 tells us that וַיַּ֣עַשׂ בָּלָ֔ק כַּֽאֲשֶׁ֖ר אָמַ֣ר בִּלְעָ֑ם, and Balak did like Bilaam said. Why is there an inconsistency in the pesukim?

This question is asked with the assumption that there is a difference between the use of the root words "דבר" and "אמר" in the Torah. See this question for more information.

  • The natural tendency of narrators to vary wording? – mevaqesh Jul 9 '17 at 5:53
  • Ploni: I edited your question to add in what I assumed was the underlying assumption of your question. If I changed the question beyond your original intentions, you can always revert the edit or edit further to clarify the question yourself. Good luck! cc @mevaqesh – MTL Jul 9 '17 at 14:26
  • Also, Ploni, your name looks familiar; is this other account yours? If so, please ask for them to be merged. That way, you can keep track of all of your activity here in one place. Hope to see you around! – MTL Jul 9 '17 at 14:28
  • from 23:1 to 23:2 there is already inconsistency: The first verse uses אמר and the very next verse - which is referring back to the preceding verse - changes to דבר. – Jay Jul 9 '17 at 19:00
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The change in wording is related to the intention of Bilaam. And this corresponds to a concept that appeared earlier in the Torah.

In Shemot 19:3 it says,

כה תאמר לבית יעקב גו׳

Rashi, borrowing from the Mechilta, explains that this expression of saying (root of אמר) means to speak gently.

The expression of speaking (דבר) has a connotation of severity, like in ordering someone.

In the first posuk, it is emphasizing that Bilaam's intention, which Balak followed out, was to curse harshly.

But what they discovered in the first two attempts to openly curse was that it didn't work. G-d converted the words of the curses into blessings. And this is what Billam explained to Balak in BeMidbar 23:12 when Balak complained to him asking, Why, if he had intended to curse Israel, did he actually bless them? Bilaam explained:

הלא את אשר ישים הוי׳ בפי אתו אשמר לדבר

But after two failed attempts to openly curse, Bilaam realized that G-d would not allow Israel to be openly cursed at that time like is stated in BeMidbar 24:1

וירא בלעם כי טוב בעיני הוי׳ לברך את-ישראל גו׳

And so Bilaam changed his strategy. He tried to bring a curse through gentle words like it states:

ולא-הלך כפעם בפעם לקראת נחשים גו׳

And this is what is implied by Balak's action in BeMidbar 23:30, that he did as Bilaam said (אמר) with a more gentle expression.

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