What Was Bilam's Sin?

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Jul 2, 2004
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Editor’s Note: The following is based upon a private conversation between HaRav Drillman, zt”l and the editor that took place on 10 Tammuz 5756 (6/27/96). The ideas found herein are based upon the teachings of HaGaon HaRav Elchonan Bunim Wasserman, zt”l hy”d whose 63rd yahrzeit, 10 Tammuz, takes place this year on July 1, 2004. - BGK

Bamidbar 22:18- Bilam answered and said to Balak’s servants: “Even if Balak would give me silver and gold enough to fill his house, “Lo uchal la’avor es Pi Hashem”, I cannot transgress the word of Hashem my G-d, by doing anything small or great.

HaRav Drillman asked why Bilam is considered to be one of the great evil doers of History even though he has clearly stated his subservience to the Ribbono Shel Olam. Furthermore, why was he liable for capital punishment in the form of beheading.

HaRav Drillman cited the following answer in the name of his revered rebbe, HaGaon HaRav Elchonan Wasserman, hy”d (Kuntres Divrei Sofrim, Siman 1). In Sefer Yirmiyahu we find that the Navi admonished Klal Yisroel for engaging in Avodah Zarah, specifically by constructing altars and sacrificing their children upon them. Yirmiyahu tells the people that HKB”H was angered by these perverse actions because “I have not commanded, nor spoken, nor has it entered My heart”. According to the Targum, these three expressions utilized by HKB”H mean to say that Klal Yisroel have transgressed halachos explicitly stated in the Torah, I conveyed through the words of a prophet, and those simply understood as being against His will.

This explanation of the Targum allows us to better understand the basic seven Noachide laws were instituted by the Beis Din of Sheim and, furthermore, why Klal Yisroel accepted the instructions of Moshe Rabbeinu when he added a day to the time indicated by HKB”H for the giving of the Torah. HaRav Drillman explained that as these events took place before Mattan Torah the Halachos of “not deviating from the dictates of the wise men of your generation” as found in Sefer Devorim (17:11).

And yet, explained Reb Elchonan, it is through the rulings and teachings of our talmidei chachomim that we are taught the will of the Ribbono Shel Olam and the chiyuv to follow these lessons are no less than any found in the Torah she’B’chsav. Bilam’s sin, then, was transgressing this concept of “v’lo olsoh al libi”. Bilam stated that he would only follow the explicit word of HKB”H, indicating, however, that he would not follow His will if it was not so written. As such, taught Reb Elchonan, even though Bilam knew that the Ribbono Shel Olam did not want him to follow the wishes of Balak, he nevertheless attempted to do so.

Parsha:
Balak 

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