The Book of Bilaam

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The Book of Bilaam

Michael Berg
July 1, 2020
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In a book called Sh’nei Luchot HaBrit from a great kabbalist known as the Sh’la, there is a lengthy but beautiful explanation about the story of Shabbat Balak. It says that in the Talmud where it explains which sage wrote which book in the Bible, it tells us that Moses not only wrote his books - the Five Books of Moses, what we have as the Torah – but he also wrote a separate book called the Book of Bilaam. And this portion is referred to not as a part of the Five Books of Moses, but rather as the revelations of Bilaam. So we have the revelations of Moses, and we have the revelations of Bilaam.

There are many stories in the Torah, such as the killing of Abel by Cain and the uprising of Korach, for instance, that were written down by Moses even though he wasn’t actually involved in them; whether he takes part in them or not, they are all considered to be the revelation of Moses. So, what is unique about this reading is that it is specifically divorced from the writings of Moses and is called the Book of Bilaam – it is the prophecy, or the revelations of Bilaam. And it is considered a very important book… but why?

The Sh’la says that in our world there are two ways for an individual to live his life. Each one of us probably goes back and forth between these two paths. One is called the path of the Right Column, the path of holiness, of spiritual work that leads to a connection with the Light of the Creator, and the other is the path of Left Column, of what’s called the Sitra Achra, the Negative Side.

Most of us know this. We have heard that there are two general paths that an individual can follow in his life: either a spiritual path of transformation and correction that leads us to a connection to the Light of the Creator, or a path of selfishness, of Desire to Receive for the Self Alone, that disconnects us from the Light of the Creator.

Most of us know that piece of information. But then the Sh’la says something that is a tremendous secret. He says that even though there are two paths, both paths lead and unify at their source in a connection to the Light of the Creator. He compares it to two travel paths; let’s say you are leaving the city, and there are two ways out. You can go on the road on the right or the road on the left. They both lead out of the city, but if you follow them backwards, they both come back to the same place. So too, he says, do the path of Right Column and the path of Left Column lead back to their source, to the Light of the Creator, to the End of the Correction.

Therefore, he says that this entire reading, this entire Shabbat, is the connection and revelation of Bilaam concerning the End of the Correction. We know that when a prophet prophesizes, when a righteous person speaks of something, it’s not just that he speaks words of something he doesn’t know; as Rav Ashlag teaches, if a prophet is prophesying, it means he is connecting to it and revealing it. So if Bilaam is prophesying about the End of the Correction, it means that he is connected to, and revealing, the End of the Correction. As such, this Shabbat, the Sh’la tells us, is the experience revealed by Bilaam of the End of the Correction.

We know that Moses saw the same thing Bilaam saw. They both had a direct prophecy and revelation of the End of the Correction, of the complete totality of the revelation of the Light of the Creator in our world. But Bilaam saw it from the Left Path, and Moses saw it from the Right Path. So, if this Shabbat - unlike any other portion of the year - is the Shabbat when the Final Correction is revealed in our world, why is it revealed through Bilaam if Moses can reveal the same thing and had the same connection?

The Sh’la says it is coming through Bilaam because the only path to the End of the Correction is when you take what he calls the prosecutor, or the negativity and darkness, and make it the defender, positivity and Light. Therefore, this Light of the End of the Correction, the path for us to come to the End of the Correction, to the perfection of our own soul and of our world, can only come through Bilaam.

Through this we understand that the only way the End of the Correction can come is when you convert curses to blessings; because only when you unify the two pathways of darkness and Light can the End of the Correction come.

The Sh’la goes on to say that the blessing in this week’s portion that Bilaam gives us is greater than the Light revealed by Jacob to his children, and greater than the blessings that Moses gave the Israelites. And why is that? Because the only way to come to the End of the Correction is to follow this path that can transform darkness into Light.

Therefore, this is the Shabbat of Bilaam because the only path to the End of the Correction is through the path of darkness, through the path revealed by Bilaam, the path that takes the darkness and transforms it into Light. On this Shabbat, Bilaam reveals to us not only the Light of the Final Correction, but also the only path into it.

In the Book of Bilaam is the only time, in the most revealed way, that there is a mention of the End of the Correction. There is a small hint of it in Jacob’s revelation, but here it’s more revealed. “I see it, but it is not now. I have a vision of it, but it is not near.” That’s what Bilaam says in his prophecy. And the great kabbalist, the Or Chaim, Rav Chaim ben Attar, says that this statement of seeing the end but it not being here yet is referring to a famous section in the Talmud, in Sanhedrin, that most of us have probably heard. Rav Ashlag speaks about it a few times - that the end of pain, suffering and death will come in one of two ways: it will either come at the end of what’s called the 6,000 year cycle, in a few hundred years, which is called be’ita, in its time. Or it can come in what’s called achishena, it will come faster.

There is a beautiful statement by Rav Naftali of Rufshitz which I think gives us a clarity of vision about this. He says that the world, or human history, is a cycle. We began at a certain point, and we have to finish that cycle. And that cycle will take us 6,000 years. Therefore, if we let it run its natural course, it will take us another two hundred and something years. But he says that we have the ability to quicken the pace of that cycle.

How do we make it go faster?

The spiritual work that we do brings some Light into our life and into this world, and it will slowly, progressively, bring us all the way to the end of that cycle in a few hundred more years. But if we do not want to wait, the only work that can bring us to achishena, to the End of the Correction, quickly is through the work of transforming darkness into Light. Therefore, I hope we can all come to a certain level of appreciation for the tremendous Light that is available on this Shabbat, and that we can begin to do the real work to bring not only the End of the Correction, but to bring it quickly.

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