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Honey Sweet
by Rabbi Heschel Greenberg
Balak, the King of Moab, is terrified of the Jewish people. Their triumphant victory over the two mighty kings, Sichon and Og, instills terror in the hearts of the Moabites. To deal with the “Jewish problem” and threat, Balak hires a heathen prophet and professional sorcerer named Bilaam to bestow his most vile curses on the Jewish nation. In the end, Bilaam was unable to utter even one curse. Moreover, the curses that he intended to utter were transformed into the most beautiful blessings, including predictions of the ultimate Redemption through Moshiach!

At first, G-d appeared to Bilaam and told him not to go. Rashi observes that Bilaam asked G-d if he could at least bless them. G-d’s response was, “They do not need to be blessed because they are already blessed.” Rashi then adds a parable of what one would tell the bee: “I don’t want your honey and I don’t want your sting.”

At first glance, this entire response is difficult to grasp. Why would we reject the bee’s honey? Indeed, we don’t normally reject it. Honey is a delicacy and a sought-after commodity. There are even bee keepers who are more than willing to risk bee stings as a way to procure this food.

Upon deeper reflection, it becomes apparent that the blessing of Bilaam is not really honey; it is just another facade to obscure the sting. Honey from a friend—and even an occasional rebuking sting from a well-intentioned person—is desirous, but not when either comes from the vile Bilaam.

On a deeper level, the danger of Bilaam blessing them is that instead of recognizing G-d as the source of blessing, people will think that their good fortune is associated with outside forces—with the Bilaams of the world. This phenomenon of identifying with our enemies when we receive some measure of good from them is well-known as “Stockholm Syndrome.”

In effect, Bilaam’s blessing is not really honey. Rather, it is another form of a sting because it deprives us of the real sweetness of G-d’s blessing.

If so, why did G-d eventually allow Bilaam to bless the Jewish people and put the most exquisite blessings into his vile mouth?

The answer is that there are actually two models for Bilaam’s blessings. The first model is a negative one because it reduces true blessings into tainted ones, because we begin to ascribe them to Bilaam and his powers.

But there is a second model in which the blessing is magnified when it issues from the mouth of a lowly individual such as Bilaam. When the lowliest forms of existence express the most exquisite words of praise of G-d and of the Jewish people—as do Bilaam’s blessings—it reveals G-d’s omnipotent aspect; nothing can stand in the way of His blessings.

This explains why Bilaam focuses so much on Moshiach and the future Redemption in his predictions of the future. In the present era of exile, we have to avoid identifying with Bilaam and his “honey sweet” blessings. When a Jew exhibits obsequiousness towards the various institutions that provide for our wellbeing and blessings, such as government and business, he or she is identifying with Bilaam’s sting, albeit subtly, and not with the Divine honey.

However, as we stand now on the threshold of the future Redemption, we are witnesses to the beginnings of a new phenomenon. We have seen how some of the most distant forces are starting to recognize the blessings of the Jewish people. Even the Bilaams of the world are evincing respect and admiration for Judaism, Jews and their special role and relationship with G-d. This process of Bilaam’s total transformation to good will be complete with the imminent arrival of Moshiach.


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