“The immorality is because of Balaam, a leader in his generation … all the kings would run to him with their disputes.” * On Chumash, second reading of Mattos-Massei.
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"They were the same ones who were involved with the children of Israel on Balaam's advice to betray the Lord over the incident of Peor, resulting in a plague among the congregation of the Lord." (Numbers 31:16)
This event took place during their journey in the wilderness when they encountered the Moabites and Midianites. The verse mentions that certain individuals were involved in a troubling incident related to the advice given by Balaam, a prophet who had been hired to curse the Israelites.This incident occurred at a place called Peor and resulted in a devastating plague among the congregation of the Lord.
The classic commentary Rashi explains this verse: "They were the same ones": This indicates that they recognized the women involved in the incident.
Rashi provides a deeper insight into Balaam's counsel to the Moabites and Midianites:
"He said to them, 'Even if you assemble all the multitudes of the world, you will not be able to overcome them. Are you more numerous than the Egyptians, who had six hundred chosen chariots? Come, and I will advise you. Their God hates immorality [thus, entice them to sin with your women...].'"
Bartenura raises a question regarding the placement of Rashi's commentary. He wonders why the verse is introduced with the explanation of "On Balaam's advice" before clarifying "They were the same ones." Logically, it would have seemed more appropriate to present the recognition of the women before explaining Balaam's advice:
“On the matter of Balaam, he said to them, etc. It is difficult to understand why the verse inverted the order, explaining ‘on the matter of Balaam’ before explaining ‘these were the ones,’ which comes before it in the verse. And it can be said that Rashi supported his reasoning from what he explained earlier, that all the corruption of the generation is dependent on its leaders.
Therefore, he explained ‘on the matter of Balaam’ close to it, meaning to say that you see that the sin of Peor is dependent on Balaam because he was a leader in his generation, as Rashi explained earlier in the verse about Pethor, that all the kings would run to him with their disputes. Therefore, the verse inverted the order.”
Here Bartenura explains that Rashi adheres to his consistent approach in interpreting the Torah. Rashi refers to his earlier commentary in the passage to provide context. According to Bartenura, Rashi draws on the previous verse to explain that the downfall of the generation is dependent on its leaders (Sifrei Mattoth 43).
Therefore, Rashi explains Balaam's advice immediately following this previous commentary to emphasize that the sin of Peor was hinged upon the influence of Balaam, a prominent figure of his time.
Balaam's recognition of Israel's strength: We are taken aback by Balaam's acknowledgment that direct confrontation with Israelites would be futile. Instead relying military might he proposed alternative approach revealing understanding Israel formidable strength (Sanhedrin 106a).
Balaam's tactics underscore the potent nature of temptation, which can lead even the strongest individuals astray. We are reminded that allure surrounds us, tempting us to compromise our moral principles and stray from the path of righteousness, just as the Israelites were enticed by the Moabite and Midianite women.
Another lesson we glean is the accountability of leaders. When a generation falls into corruption, its leaders bear significant responsibility. Rashi teaches us that leaders possess the power to protest and guide their people toward righteousness. We are reminded of the vital role leaders play in shaping the moral fabric of society.
Balaam's scheme highlights the paramount importance of maintaining moral integrity, even in the face of seductive influences. Just as the Israelites were tested, we too must stand firm in our commitment to the teachings of the Torah and resist the allure of immorality.
The Moabites and Midianites represent temptations and distractions that impede our connection with the Divine. Overcoming these obstacles aligns us with the divine purpose embedded within the Torah.
In the future Messianic era, the temptation towards immorality will be vanquished. Just as the Israelites overcame the seductive tactics of Balaam and his cohorts, humanity will triumph over darkness and be guided by the light of righteousness.