Moral Shields

Numbers Hizkuni: Matot

Moral Shields

Bilaam attempting to curse Israel

Bilaam the evil prophet endeavors to curse the children of Israel. In an almost comical rendition, every time Bilaam tries to curse, a blessing escapes his lips. No matter what strategy or tactic he employs, Bilaam could not penetrate the divine shield of protection around Israel. After three attempts Balak, the King of Moab, sends Bilaam away in shame.

Bilaam gives Balak some parting advice. Get Israel to sin and their defenses will crumble. The Moabites together with the Midianites take Bilaam’s advice to heart. Their women engage in a campaign of seduction of Israelite men. The hapless men take the bait and with Israel’s enemies not having to lift a finger (though perhaps a skirt), 24,000 men of Israel drop dead. God, infuriated by Israelite infidelity, struck them down with an immediate plague.

A few chapters later Bilaam is found with Midianite troops. Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni, 13th Century) together with other commentators question Bilaam’s presence with the Midianites. Hizkuni explains that Bilaam was coming to finish the job. Once he found out Israel had sinned, they would be easy targets to curse. Their divine protection evaporated. They were sitting ducks just waiting for the final blow of Bilaam’s curse.

Luckily for us Bilaam was intercepted and killed (see story for fictionalized details). The Torah appears to give great weight to Bilaam’s intentions, powers and plans. They imply that Israel’s enemies can hurt us, they can reach us, but only if we drop our moral defenses. The moment we veer from the proper path, we have created the opening our enemies need to curse us. And if we are not careful, their curses can hit their targets.

May we keep our moral defenses up and thereby not only deflect curses but also absorb blessings.

Shabbat Shalom,



To my in-laws, Yossi and Gita Tocker on their momentous Aliyah to Israel. They have turned the afflictions of living elsewhere and transformed them to the blessings of returning home.

In memory of Marc Weinberg. Though he was challenged with a short existence, in his 35 years he lived a life filled with tremendous accomplishment, leadership, generosity and love.

To my newest niece, Eleana Gila, brand-new daughter of Nechama and Boaz Spitz. Her birth hinted at danger, but she has overcome that with flying colors and is a blessing for her parents and all of Israel.

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