BIL’AM: PROPHET OR VILLAIN?

July 21st, 2016

Rabbi Dunner delves into the enigmatic biblical personality who appears in this week’s Torah portion – Bil’am ben Be’or.

Called upon by Balak, King of Moab, to curse the Jews, at first Bil’am refuses, and later on only agrees to visit the king on the understanding that all his actions would have to accord with God’s wishes.

The narrative includes a curious incident involving a talking donkey, and then continues with the four separate ‘prophecies’ of Bilaam, who utters a series of incredible blessings instead of the desired curses.

So who was Bil’am? Was he a man of God, or was he a charlatan? Why is this story about him included in the Torah? What do the Talmudic sages have to say about him? How does he compare to our patriarch Abraham, and to Moshe himself? What is the legacy of Bil’am, and how does that legacy play itself out in contemporary times?

Rabbi Dunner looks at the narrative itself, and then at the Midrashic and Talmudic sources, followed by later rabbinic opinion on Bil’am and his place in our religious tradition.

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