Divine Irony

Numbers Hizkuni: Balak

Divine Irony

Laban searching Jacob's possesions

God has a long memory and a sense of irony. Our patriarch Jacob flees from his father-in-law Lavan’s home in Aram with wives and children in tow. Lavan chases him heading southwest towards Canaan. He catches him somewhere to the east of the Jordan River. After some harsh words against each other they sign a peace treaty and build a cairn of stones to commemorate the pact.

Lavan swears an oath that he will not pass the stones to harm Jacob (Genesis 31:52), and each go their merry way.

A few hundred years later the sorcerer Bilaam ventures southwest from Aram. He goes to curse the children of Jacob. He finds them camping east of the Jordan River and preparing to enter the land of Canaan.

According to midrashic sources Bilaam is either an extremely long-lived Lavan or a descendent of his with equally hostile feelings towards the family of Jacob.

Bilaam is injured badly in the course of the dance between his donkey and the angel trying to kill him. The Torah describes how the donkey veers into the wall and Bilaam’s leg is damaged as a result.

Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) claims that the wall was actually a pillar of stone and it was none other than the stones that had been erected as a reminder of the pact of non-belligerence. Hizkuni feels that Bilaam received his comeuppance with the precise reminder of his breach of trust. It was no coincidence that the tool of Bilaam’s (initial) punishment should be the very object that he betrayed.

Hizkuni adds that Bilaam’s passionate hatred of Israel blinded the otherwise brilliant man from the obvious fact of God’s displeasure with anyone attempting to curse Israel.

Unfortunately for him, he did not heed the multiple warnings and divine hints he was given but relentlessly pursued his anti-Semitic agenda. His end, as we see later on was catastrophic.

May we appreciate God’s irony and always have faith that He will resolve things the way they should be.

Shabbat Shalom,



To God. Amongst other things for His sense of irony and timing, and for sometimes letting us in on it. To France’s national soccer team. One of the leading teams in the world cheated against Ireland in the qualifying round. They have now been utterly humiliated in the first round of the World Cup and eliminated in ignoble defeat. I suspect God is also following the games and administering appropriate comeuppance.

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