We come now to Parshat Balak, which is, for the most part, the story of Balaam the prophet. The interesting thing about Balaam that isn’t explicit in the Torah text itself, but is in the tradition, is that Balaam is viewed as basically the equal of Moshe Rabbeinu. That is to say, Balaam is no slouch. He is not just any sort of ordinary black magician that Balak has handy. In fact, in our tradition he’s viewed explicitly as being on the same level as Moshe Rabbeinu. What that means is that he is the Moshe of the “other side.”
In the kabbalistic tradition there is the side of holiness and what is called the “other side,” which is a euphemism for saying, “the mirror image of Holiness,” which has the same structure, as it’s made up of the same sefirot and the same qualities and energies. But the other side has the purpose of retarding progress. So there are the evolutionary forces which are represented by the aspects of Holiness, of which Moshe Rabbeinu is the transmitter, or the deep mind that connects to the Divine Source and affects the nature of reality decisively through its power to articulate the directions that come from the Divine Source Itself. In the case of Moshe Rabbeinu, the messages that he gets are evolutionary, they’re pointing towards the future. Everything that is on the side of holiness has zeh le’umat zeh. We have the verse (Kohelet 7:14) that says, “one thing was made corresponding to the other,” meaning that if you have something on the side of Holiness, just as in the Newtonian sense, there is an equal and opposite force on the other side. There is something resisting, except in this instance it is not exactly equal and opposite. In a certain way, it’s equal because it’s on the same level of functionality, but there’s still a clear distinction, because in the long run, it wouldn’t be social evolution unless something actually progressed, unless something actually evolved. So, holiness is ultimately higher than the other side, but we can’t discount the other side, meaning that the process of evolution takes a lot of time. The reason evolution takes a lot of time is because there are opposing forces. The curser, Balaam, has a power that’s similar to Moshe Rabbeinu, but its power is the other side form that offsets the virtuous power of Moshe Rabbeinu. Balaam’s primary function is to curse, that’s to say, to articulate the form of energy that is resistant and that channels and manifests the destructive elements that retard the evolutionary process.
So what we see in this parashah is basically this: we have this king, Balak. Balak represents the powers of the current establishment that are frightened of progress, they’re frightened of evolution. Balak sees that the forces that followed the evolutionary direction of Moshe Rabbeinu have had a certain measure of success and that frightens the established order because everyone wants to maintain itself. That’s a fundamental principle of evolution: everything that exists has a desire to live and to continue living. So Balak’s operation is to see, “how can I hold back my own destruction?” And the way Balak goes about this is to turn to the mirror image of Moshe Rabbeinu, who is Balaam.
Balaam is Balak’s prophet, his divine mouthpiece, so to speak. So, Balak goes to Balaam and says, “look, we’re in trouble here, because there is this revolutionary teaching that is coming through and it’s had some success, and if we’re not careful, we’ll be finished! So, I want you to use your power, your equal and opposite power, to put a curse on the evolutionary forces, which is to say, to unleash a potent form of energy that will retard the success and progress that comes through the holy side, through the message of Moshe Rabbeinu.”
Now, Balaam is actually very high, so what he says to Balak…he doesn’t simply respond by saying, “neat! Cool! Okay, let’s do it! I know I’m going to get paid well for this because it means a lot to you.” But what Balaam says to Balak is, “look, I’m going to tell you something: I might be the equal to Moshe Rabbeinu, I have a lot of power and that’s to say, I’m tuned in to the Divine Purpose and so I can really bring a lot of powerful stuff through. But the truth of the matter is, there’s not one thing I can do on my own. I’m only really channeling, as the mouthpiece, The Articulator, The Shaper of the Opposite Forces of Resistance that are only a part of the total picture. Really, I’m not a separate entity unto myself because there really is only one Totality and there is only one Source driving everything according to Its will. So, I understand what you’re asking me to do, but I can only do it to the extent that I get the message from the Divine Source.” And that’s the answer Balak gets from Balaam.
Of course, what we see is that Balaam can’t really deliver anything but a blessing because the fact of the matter is the evolutionary message and direction is going to materialize. And so the best that he can do is expressed in the verse in which he says, er’enu ve-lo’atah, “I can see where this is leading and it’s not going to be immediate.” Asherenu ve-lo qarov, “I can hold it back, to some extent, so that it won’t be happening right now, but,” darach kokhav mi-Ya’aqov ve-qam shevet mi-Yisrael, “whatever I’m going to do to retard this, it’s inevitable that the Star of Guidance, the Light of the Future will be leading the lower aspect of the human part of us, which is Ya’akov. This is the part of us that has to be transformed. And the shevet, which is the ascendancy and scepter, will ultimately emerge from the higher evolving level of Yisrael.”
So, there’s a teaching given over that illustrates the difference between Moshe Rabbeinu, who’s the tzaddik, meaning the channel for Divinity on the holy evolving side, and Balaam, who’s on the opposite side, which is the channel for Divinity on the holding back side. A verse from Shemuel says, “Tzaddik moshel yirat Elohim, “a tzaddik rules through yirat Elohim, through awe of the Ultimate Power.” And the Midrash explains, “Ha-Qodesh Baruch Hu gozer v’tzaddik mevatlo,” “the Holy One determines what’s going to happen, but a tzaddik can cancel it out.” This is the very opposite of Balaam. Balaam can’t cancel out anything, he can only do. He can only express the form of retardant power that G-D wishes to be currently operative. But on the holy side of Moshe Rabbeinu, the ultimate difference is that the tzaddik can actually go higher than the power that is predominating in any particular time, which is the “Divine decree,” the gezeyrah. And so, through the power of the heart of the tzaddik, which has the intention of fostering evolution and leading people in that direction, there is the ascendency. There is something special. Even though Balaam is on the same level as Moshe Rabbeinu, there is that little extra, because Moshe can actually go beyond any manifestation that presently exists and bring down a higher evolutionary light that can literally transform things and make the situation better.
In giving over these teachings, I try to shape things in a new way, but I’m not sitting here simply making all of this up! I draw from teachings that are explicit in the tradition, but whose meaning for the emerging paradigm is hidden in plain sight and ready to be revealed.
If you look in the p’shat, the apparent meaning of just what appears in the Chumash, Balaam is an enigma in that he is brought in to curse and yet he delivers the most beautiful, poetic blessings. There is something very ironic here, but it’s hard to understand. In the esoteric tradition he is given tremendous kavod in the sense that he’s the other side of Moshe Rabbeinu. We could go much more deeply into that teaching, but the point is that while there are offsetting powers, there is a slight and deciding advantage on the side of holiness. But this is obviously a process in which there are retardant conservative forces.
Admittedly, I reject the more dualistic paradigm in which there is a need to completely vilify Balaam and Balak. That’s dualistic in that there is absolute evil and absolute good. Rather, in the new paradigm we see a complex system involving various forces that perform different functions. But what might be considered negative or dark forces are clearly “taking their orders from the same source” or, to put it another way, participating in the same holistic process, and they don’t really have any power to overcome the “Divine Intent.” It is this that is really the message, the key to Balaam for us. Yes, he really is powerful, but he has no independent power, no independence at all! On the other hand, in a way, on the side of holiness there is a quality of freedom. There is a certain freedom that enables a really devoted being to have the capacity to elevate beyond the present configurations, the “Divine decrees” and through this one can actually change something. That’s the transformative power. Balaam doesn’t have the transformative power, only a kind of retardant power, a resistance factor.