Why Would Moshe Have NOT Written About Bilam?

PARASHAT BALAK: Why is it implied and what can we learn from it today?

By Rav Ari Shames 

The Gemara in Baba Batra discusses the authorship of the books in Tanach.

“Who wrote them? Moshe wrote his book and the parsha of Billam and Iyov”.

This very short line of Gemara is intriguing in many different ways. The description of the Torah as “his book” (as opposed to possibly “His book”) is an interesting description of the Torah. (Note: some explain “his book” to refer to Sefer Devarim alone).

The authorship of Iyov, as well, could provide us with many hints as to the nature of the book.

However the most puzzling clause is that Moshe wrote Parshat Billam. It would seem that the Gemara is referring to our parsha relating the incidents with Billam and Balak. Why would we think that Moshe did not write this part of the Torah? We find ourselves right in the middle of sefer Bamidbar and I cannot see any logical reason to assume that this section of the Torah should be treated any differently than any other.

(There is a discussion concerning the final verses of the Torah in which we are told of Moshe’s death, which of course lead us to believe that Moshe himself did not write them. This is dealt with later in the same Gemara).

Due to this most obvious question many of the commentaries were forced into offering various solutions.

Rashi on the Gemara explains that we would have thought that Moshe did not write this parsha, as it “is irrelevant to Moshe’s purpose, teachings and actions”. Rashi’s statement is shocking in its implications, not to mention the fact that it puts a real damper on learning Parshat Hashavua this week.

The Ein Yaakov reinterprets Rashi to be discussing the last of Billam’s prophecies alone. Billam speaks three times in direct reference to Am Yisrael, see Bamidbar 23:7-12, 23:18-24 and 24:3-9, and after Balak is thoroughly frustrated with him Billam continues to discuss the other nations of the region Moav, Edom Amalek, Kini etc. According to the Maharsha this is the section that Rashi was referring to as having do direct relevance to Moshe.

[It is interesting to note that this is only the original thought of the Gemara while the conclusion is that Moshe himself did write this part as well. Is this because the Gemara felt that it does have direct relevance to Moshe or despite the fact that it does not have direct relevance Moshe is still the author?]

The Ritva writes that “Parshat Billam” does not refer to our parsha but rather to another document that described the incident, which was authored by Moshe. The obvious problem with this view is twofold. Why was Moshe busy chronicling contemporary events? Furthermore whatever answer is provided to the first question only begs the second which is why was this not included in the Torah?

I would like to share a different approach that I have heard from Rav Eliezer Shenkolovski. If we were describe the event of Balak and Billam from the viewpoint of the average Jew in the camp at the time it would sound close to the following:

Dear Diary,

It has been a few days now since the last victorious battles and thank God all is quite now. There is excitement in the camp and overall the mood is good but most importantly nothing is going on. The children are playing and the adults are making plans for their part of Eretz Yisrael. I spent the morning by myself just outside the camp enjoying the tranquility of the scenery. There are just rolling hills for as far as the eye can see with an occasional wisp of smoke from the odd fire that was probably set by some shepherd making his lunch.

Well that’s enough for now. I’ll write again tomorrow.

The entire incident never happened!! Or rather Am Yisrael was unaware of the entire incident. The negotiations between Balak and Billam, the talking donkey and the “curses” all took place without the involvement of a single member of Am Yisrael. The “occasional wisps of smoke” were not from any shepherd but rather the produce of the fires of the seven altars that were built to for Billam to offer his sacrifices, but from the viewpoint of the camp it was simply smoke.

The fact that Moshe wrote this section is now significant in two ways. Firstly the only way Moshe could have possibly written the pessukim was by prophecy. Hashem revealed all of the details to him and he recorded them. In this sense, the authorship of this part of the Torah reinforces one of our most basic beliefs that of the authenticity of the prophecy of Moshe Rabenu. The Rambam lists this as one of the thirteen principles of faith and our entire system of Torah shbectav and Torah shebal peh is predicated on this.

In addition the inclusion of this section teaches us a major lesson. Hashem is looking out for us in ways that we cannot conceive of. There are times that we are looking at a miracle face to face and we naturally look to Hashem to thank Him, until of course our human tendencies of justifying everything “rationally” take over and only the true believers continue to recognize God for His kindness. However the vast majority of miracles God does for us are of the Billam type. Behind the scenes work in places near and far that we have no idea at all that anything is stirring.

This is what we mean in the Amidah when we thank God for his miracles and wonders that constantly surround us. After all we do not see miracles every day all day but that does not mean that they are not taking place. To paraphrase a philosophical cliché “If a miracle happens in a forest and there is no one to witness it IT IS STILL A MIRACLE”. We are guided by chazal to understand this point and actually thank God daily for that which we do not see or experience.

The authorship of Parshat Billam is to reinforce the importance and centrality of the “quiet” miracles.

Originally appears on the Midreshet Harova website

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