The Magic of Our Words – Parshat Balak

Aladdin's Magic Lamp
Aladdin’s Magic Lamp

Parshat Balak tells us the story about a king ready to destroy the Jewish people. His reasoning – without any provocation or cause – based on made-up images that perhaps only a lunatic could consider. Having seen that Bnei Yisrael were successful in destroying the two kings – Sichon and Og, he imagined that he was next in line. His plan – to hire a magician to curse the Jewish people into oblivion.

The Zohar teaches that Bilam’s magic lay in the power of his tongue. Whatever he would say would happen. Being negatively inclined, however, he could not actually imagine using his tongue for good. To him, life was about the negative and the evil of the world – as long as he would get his own way! Knowing this, Balak hired him for the job! He knew that with just a few words, the Jewish people would be destroyed (G-d forbid). Balak calls for Bilam saying to him, “Go out and curse this nation for me… because I know that whatever you bless is blessed, and whatever you curse will be cursed!”

Those paying attention to the words of Balak will realise why the king may be considered within the category of lunatic. Think of it for a moment. Imagine a situation of knowing that a person can utter a blessing and change your entire life around for the good – in abundance. Imagine that he also has an equally powerful energy that when activated, can cause one’s enemies to fall.

Now imagine this… Imagine a situation of a poor person who has absolutely nothing. He is offered in front of his eyes the winning ticket to the $500 million lottery. Next to him stands a magician – whose magic for cursing is proven – who is prepared to curse everyone who has ever hurt this poor man – to take revenge for their never having helped him in need. The poor person is told that he can choose either of the “prizes”. To consider the poor person choosing the latter could mean only two things! The pauper will not only remain poor – but he is indeed a lunatic!


A story is told of a man who was offered a wish for anything in the world. He was guaranteed the fulfillment of the wish. However, there was a condition attached. Whatever he would get – his enemy would get twice as much! The man thought for some time, finally coming to his conclusion. “Remove my one eye,” he replied.

It sounds crazy. Hard to believe. Is this really human nature? Whether a king or whether a pauper – or just a person who has an enemy – can it be a person will choose the hurt and pain of the other over the blessing to oneself?!


Yet, so often, we forget. The story of Balak is not just about Balak. It is a story about ourselves. Each day, we too are faced with these decisions in our lives. We too can choose life or death for ourselves and for others. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21) says the wisest of men. Each day, we have the power with our tongues to bring blessing to others – or the opposite. What will we choose?

The Gemara (Berachot 10a) tells a story about Rabbi Meir and his famous wife – Beruria the daughter of Rabbi Chanina ben Teradyon. It happened that some hooligans were causing him much anguish. Rabbi Meir prayed that G-d should have mercy upon them that they should die. Beruria responded to her husband asking why he would do such a thing since the verse in Psalms (104:35) says, “Let sins cease from the land.” It would seem his thinking would be that it be better for the world to be without these sinners. Yet Beruria pointed out, the verse says that sins should cease from the land, not sinners. Once he was praying (and believing his prayer to be so powerful as to come true,) it would be better that he pray that there no longer be sin in the world, not that the sinners themselves die! Once there will be no such thing as sin – then there will no longer be sinners!


How do we think of others, and what do we wish them? When confronted by another, do we see them as the sinner who deserves death? Do we see them as struggling and who now require life?! When confronted by a person struggling – do we wish them the worst for their life, because they are in control of it and have prevented their own achievement? Do we wish them the very best?! Do we pray for their good – their happiness? Do we want to see them successful, or are we glad to see them fall?

If we are like Balak we will wish them the worst. However, here is the irony! When Balak approached Bilam, he pointed out to him that he had within his ability to bring blessing wherever it was needed and it would be fulfilled. Yet Balak chose the negative option. Much like the poor man who longed to see the revenge of his enemies more than his own success. Much like the fellow offered a blessing of anything – yet his enemy would receive double (something he could not bear to think about!)

If Balak had only thought better! Had he only seen the possibility of blessing! He could have had it all! Bilam could have even provided him with the blessing to win the war. Instead of choosing the path of blessing – however, he chose the path of its opposite. He wished for the worst for the other – knowing fully well that both were in the power of the tongue of Bilam.

Indeed, each of us has within ourselves that same tongue – whether we know it or not. We must remember, that we constantly have this choice to make when confronted by others. We can choose to use our tongues to hurt the other whenever we choose – hoping that in this way, things will be better for ourselves. Alternatively, we can use our tongues for the good of others, bringing them blessings even if it seems like we as yet – do not have them.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue. Because – if we really believe we have such power in our tongues to curse – then let us equally believe we have such power to bless… We can choose our paths like a lunatic, not realising how much we hurt ourselves – or we can bring life to others and ourselves, bringing us a victory in the wars each of us fight every single day.

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