Balak: Take Heed with Your Words

“Go now, I pray thee, curse me this people…” (Numbers 22:6)

Balak, King of Moab, instructs Balaam, enchanter-for-hire, known for his very efficacious curses, to direct his wicked wares against the Children of Israel, now encamped upon Moab’s border on their way toward the Holy Land.

Of course, those of us familiar with this narrative know the end of the story: God intervenes to confound Balaam, and rather than pronounce curses upon Israel, Balaam’s mouth utters some of the most profound blessings ever expressed by men, to the great chagrin King Balak.

Not only, though, did Balaam pronounce blessings upon Israel, but God placed in Balaam’s mouth prophecies concerning the downfall of Israel’s enemies, including none other than Moab itself, the very patron nation that hired Balaam to curse Israel!

Aside from simple irony, the deeper commentaries point out a profound lesson that one must derive from these events: Balak’s very own words served as his entrapment.

Indeed, Balaam actually fulfilled the command of his master Balak, though not as Balak had intended. For Balak, in his instruction to Balaam, said, “Curse me”!  Though Balak intended that Balaam should curse on his behalf, Balak’s words nevertheless allowed for a fulfillment that the curse should fall upon him.

The Torah conveys here how careful a person must be with their words. Words create and words destroy. A poorly chosen phrase, even with good intent, carries a force that may bring destruction into the world. One must ensure that one’s words always carry positive connotations, so that the power of those words only serve to bring positive forces into the world, and not, Heaven forbid, the opposite.

May we always use all powers at our disposal — our words, and all the more so our actions — to safeguard our world and all those in it.

Based on Shla”h, Parshas Balak

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