The Gemara in Bava Basra (14b) states: “Moshe Rabbeinu wrote his sefer, ‘Parshas Bilam,’ and the book of Iyov (Job).” Rashi there explains, “[What is Parshas Bilam?] His (i.e., Bilam’s) prophecies and parables, even though there is no purpose in it for Moshe Rabbeinu, his Torah or his deeds.” Rashi is obviously attempting to explain why ‘Parshas Bilam’ is mentioned as something apart from the rest of the Torah, so to speak. Many parts of the Torah are about other people, yet these are considered ‘integral’ parts of Torah, and are called “Sefer Moshe.” ‘Parshas Bilam’ stands alone, and is considered ‘separate.’ Rashi’s explanation leaves us with some palpable questions. Isn’t the entire book of Bereishis, which centers on the stories of the Avos (patriarchs) part of “Sefer Moshe?” Surely, that has nothing to do with Moshe! However, since these accounts were dictated to Moshe Rabbeinu from Hashem, they are part and parcel of Toras Moshe. How, and in what way, does ‘Parshas Bilam’ differ?
Rashi’s statement that the Gemara’s phrase “Moshe’s Sefer” refers to “his Torah” requires explanation. What exactly is “Sefer Moshe?” From studying Rashi in Chullin (137a), we learn that the actual term ‘Torah’ implies a hora’ah, a teaching, for all generations to come. (This, in contrast to the phrase ‘divrei kabbalah,’ which refers to prophecies that were a message for the time that they were transmitted, although we can extrapolate their teachings to apply to other situations.) Toras Moshe refers to that which Moshe wrote for all generations to come. Thus, the Ramban writes (in his introduction to the book of Bereishis) that the stories of Bereishis are a part of the Torah because they teach people fundamentals of emunah. As such, we can assume that ‘Parshas Bilam’ not being part of Toras Moshe means that it is not one of Moshe’s teachings for perpetuity. But why not, and in what sense is this so?
First, we must understand why Bilam was granted prophecy. A seemingly strange Medrash Rabba states, “the passuk (Devarim 34:10) ‘There arose no other prophet like Moshe Rabbeinu amongst the Jews’ implies that amongst the nations of the world there did arise another [like Moshe Rabbeinu] —Bilam.” What does this mean, and what doesn’t it mean?
Ramban in this week’s parshah (Bamidbar 24:1) explains, “Do not think differently about this issue (Bilam’s prophecy) than what we have written (that Bilam’s prophecy was two levels below that of Moshe Rabbeinu’s)… Chazal’s statement (quoted above) ‘but amongst…’ refers to the clarity of Moshe’s prophecy, and means that prophecy came clearly to Moshe [in the manner of] one who speaks to his friend face-to-face. [In face to face conversation] the speaker tells [his partner in the conversation] his words and his intent, until he recognizes in the listener’s face that he has understood his words according to his intent, so that the message is clearly understood by the listener hearing the speaker’s speech and through his recognizing what the speaker wants to say by looking by looking at his face (i.e., by reading his facial expressions) …The Sages are saying that Bilam had this level of clarity when he prophesied [in honor of Yisrael]; that he had a complete understanding of G-d’s words and His will and desire in regard to the whole subject of what would befall Israel.” [But certainly, his level of prophecy was lower than Moshe’s as in indicated in other places].
Ramban further states (24:5): “[When the passuk says that Hashem put words in Bilam’s mouth] it means that Hashem taught him the words so that he (Bilam) should review them with his mouth and not forget nor omit any part of them.”
But for whom were Bilam’s prophecies intended? On the one hand, we have Chazal telling us that Bilam was given the gift of prophecy so that the nations of the world could not claim that, would they have had a prophet, they would have become servants of and worshipped Hashem. On the other hand, other statements of Chazal indicate that he attained prophecy only for the honor of the Jewish nation (which seems to mean in order to perpetuate the miracle). If so, where, when and what did he prophesize to the nations, from which they were to learn to do teshuvah?
Ramban writes (22:20) that Hashem allowed Bilam to go to Balak so that Bnei Yisrael might be blessed davka by a prophet of the nations of the world. Why?
Ramban (Devarim 32:26) explains the purpose of the very existence of Klal Yisrael as follows: The purpose of the creation of humanity is to recognize and acknowledge Hashem, but since the world violated that charge, there is now one nation dedicated to that purpose. The chosen nation experienced miracles throughout their history in order to further this belief and knowledge. Thus, if Klal Yisrael were to be —chas veshalom— removed from the scene, the very purpose for which the world was created would be lost.
And so it is through our existence, testifying to the existence and greatness of Hashem amongst the nations of the world, that the world achieves its purpose. Thus, as many point out, the chief underlying cause of anti-Semitism is, in truth, a battle against Hashem, who we represent. It is as the purveyors of kevod shamayim that we are persecuted and victimized.
What this means is that the nations of the world have a choice of two possible reactions to the Jewish people. To allow Israel to be the head of all the Nations, to subjugate themselves to Israel, and through that to also be part of this grand accomplishment of kevod shamayim, or —sadly— the way that they have reacted to Klal Yisrael throughout history.
This role of the Jewish people was revealed to the nations of the world via these prophecies of Bilam! He prophesized that Yisrael is a nation apart… that they will capture Eretz Yisrael and in effect conquer the world… that Hashem will punish those who have persecuted His children…
The consequence of all this is that the Nations’ standing is dependent on their treatment of Klal Yisrael! This was revealed to them through the prophecy of a seer with the level of clarity of a Moshe Rabbeinu! Now, they cannot claim that would they have had a prophet, they would have understood and fulfilled their role. This is the deeper meaning of Hashem’s will for Israel to be blessed by the nations’ prophet —in order for our status to be recognized with clarity and accuracy.
This, in turn, places a tremendous responsibility upon us—to live up to and be worthy of such a mission.