וירא בלק בן צפור את כל אשר עשה ישראל לאמרי ויגר מואב מפני העם מאד כי רב הוא ויקץ מואב מפני בני ישראל
And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. And Mo’ab was very afraid of the people, because they were many; and Mo’ab was overcome with fear of the people of Israel.
One may ask the following questions:
1. Why does the Scripture begin and end by referring to Israel, but refer to “the people” (העם) in between?
2. Why was it necessary to write both “ויגר מואב” (Mo’ab was in great dread) and “ויקץ מואב” (Moab was overcome with fear)? What do the two verbs signify?
Our master explains that our Sages observed that the Mo’abites did not fear that Israel would wage war against them, because Israel had already been commanded (Deuteronomy 2:9) “אל תצר את מואב ואל תתגר בם מלחמה” (do not harass Mo’ab, or contend with them in battle). They were allowed, as the Ramban writes, only to confiscate provisions from Mo’ab. What, then, caused such great anxiety? It must have been that the Mo’abites had just witnessed what Israel did to Sihon and Og, conquering their lands despite being situated on the eastern side of the Jordan, and had never been promised to Abraham’s offspring. The Mo’abites therefore feared that, because the Children of Israel were too numerous to be accommodated by the land on the western side of the Jordan, the Mixed Multitude among the Children of Israel would attack Mo’ab, conquer their land, and expel them from their homeland. They also feared that the Children of Israel, while passing through their land, would confiscate provisions from them.
The Scripture, therefore, writes that Balak saw all that Israel had done to the Emorites. So, despite God’s command to Israel not to do the same to Mo’ab, Mo’ab, nevertheless “was in great dread of the people.” Here “the people” refers to the Mixed Multitude, because Mo’ab feared that the Mixed Multitude would break off from the Children of Israel to conquer their land, “כי רב הוא” (for they were many). Because they were so numerous, the Mo’abites feared that, when the Mixed Multitude realized that the land of the Canaanites could not accommodate them all, they would seek to conquer the neighboring lands. But aside from their fear of the Mixed Multitude, Mo’ab was gripped by immediate terror and dread that the Israelites themselves would launch raids against Mo’ab to confiscate provisions, which is why the Scripture also writes “and Mo’ab was overcome with fear of the Children of Israel.”
According to the explanation of Rashi, this verb (ויקץ) is the same verb as (Genesis 27:46) “קצתי בחיי מפני בנוֹת חת” (I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth). The verse is abbreviated as if to say: “Mo’ab was weary of life, because of the Children of Israel.” And Mo’ab said: “although I would rather live than die, nevertheless, I am weary of a life in which there is no sustenance, for if they pass through my land, and launch raids to take provisions, they will take the bread from our own mouths.” (שביבי אש)
ויאמר אלהים אל בלעם לא תלך עמהם לא תאר את העם כי ברוך הוא
And God said to Balaam, You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people; for they are blessed.
לא תלך עמהם (You shall not go with them). He (Balaam) said: If so, I will curse them in my own place. Whereupon God answered: לא תאר את העם (you shall not curse the people). He said to Him: If so, I will bless them. He replied to him: They do not need your blessing, for they are blessed.
See the comment of the Siftei Hakhamim [that Rashi inferred that there was a conversation between God and Balaam not merely a direct command from God to Balaam from the text which says “לא תלך עמהם; לא תאר את העם” (You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people) instead of “לא תלך עמהם לאר את העם” (You shall not go with them to curse the people).
But the comment of the Siftei Hakhamim was misdirected, because, as our master explains, Rashi meant that there was a conversation between the Eternal and Balaam, because the Scripture did not write “ולא תאר את העם” (and you shall not curse the people) with a conjoining “vav” instead of “לא תאר את העם”. This textual difference makes it clear that not cursing them was a commandment distinct from not going with Balak’s messengers. Moreover, if the Eternal had closed the path to prevent Balaam from accompanying the messengers, how could Balaam then have dared to suggest that he would curse the people without going with them? Why, then, did God have to say explicitly “לא תאר את העם” (you shall not curse the people)?
Rashi therefore explains that, after being told not to go with Balak’s messengers, Balaam still wished to curse them in his own place, so that God had to respond by explicitly commanding him not to curse the people. For, in his towering arrogance, Balaam had thought that the Eternal did not allow him to go with these men, because they were insufficiently important and eminent for Balaam’s honor. Misled by his own self-regard, Balaam thought that he would have been allowed to go with a more distinguished entourage than the one Balak had sent. Indeed, Balaam told them (Numbers 22:13): “מאן ה’ לתתי להלך עמכם” (the Eternal has refused to let me go with you). And Balak, indeed, did send a larger and more distinguished delegation of ministers after Balaam refused to return with the first delegation. When the second delegation from Balak came to Balaam, the Eternal, therefore, did not say to Balaam that he should only go in the company of the kings and the mighty ones of the earth. Rather, the Eternal had to tell him explicitly that he should not go to curse the people. See the explanation of the Ramban why the Eternal was angry that Balaam went with the delegation from Balak.
However, Rashi’s comment that, after being told not to curse Israel, Balaam said, “if so let me bless them,” is very obscure. How is it that Balaam, an enemy of the Children of Israel, was suddenly transformed into a loyal friend seeking to bless them? Our master suggested that it might be possible to explain his request in light of the statement of the Sages that the Moabites did not fear that Israel would wage war against them, because God had commanded Israel not to harass Moab or contend with them in battle. Israel had, however, been permitted to confiscate supplies from the Moabites, which greatly frightened Moab. However, a nation would not conduct such raids unless it lacked adequate supplies with which to support its soldiers. Balaam therefore said, if I cannot curse them, then I will bless them, so that they will be wealthy and will have houses filled with every good thing, so that will not need to launch raids against Moab. (שביבי אש)