By Rabbi Shimmy Sternfield
ויאמר אליו מלאך ד’ על מה הכית את אתנך זה שלוש רגלים הנה אנכי יצאתי לשטן כי ירט הדרך לנגדי
(פרק כ”ב, פסוק ל”ב)
The angel of Hashem said to him, “Why did you hit your donkey three times? Behold, I went out to impede, for you hastened on the road to oppose me.”
When בלעם went with the officers of מואב to curse בני ישראל, Hashem became angry with him. A מלאך went out to block the path and stood in front of the donkey upon which בלעם was riding. Although בלעם could not see the angel, his donkey could. Frightened by the sight of a מלאך with a drawn sword, the animal tried several times to avoid the מלאך. Each time the donkey refused to go where בלעם wanted it to go, he hit the donkey with his staff. Finally, Hashem allowed בלעם to see the מלאך. The מלאך asked him, “Why have you hit your donkey these three times? I came to impede your progress because you hastened to oppose [Hashem]. The donkey saw me and turned away…” בלעם replied, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing opposite me on the road.” רש”י writes, that this was a very embarrassing thing for בלעם to admit. He claimed to know “דעת עליון”- the knowledge of the Supreme One! (חז”ל explain, that בלעם was successful at issuing curses because he was able to discern the moment that Hashem is angry and would curse people at that time.) Now, he was forced to openly admit that, “I did not know…” The ספר ימין יוסף asks several questions about the conversation between the מלאך and בלעם: 1) If the מלאך was dispatched because Hashem was angry at בלעם for going, why does he begin by asking בלעם why he was hitting his donkey? Sticking up for the donkey has nothing to do with the reason he was standing in front of בלעם. 2) What indication was there that בלעם was going “to oppose [Hashem]”? Couldn’t בלעם claim he was simply going with them- as Hashem told him he could- and was planning to say as Hashem commanded him? What proof is there that בלעם was planning to curse בני ישראל? 3) When בלעם said, “I did not know…” he was only saying that he did not realize the מלאך was standing there. How does that contradict his claim to understand דעת עליון, the moment Hashem is angry? The ימין יוסף answers based on a statement of the בעל הטורים. The בעל הטורים writes, that בלעם would normally have cursed his donkey rather than hit it. However, since he was hoping to curse בני ישראל later that day, he could not curse his donkey, for the rule is that one cannot successfully issue two curses in one day. Therefore, בלעם had no choice but to hit the donkey instead. Based on this בעל הטורים, the conversation between the מלאך and בלעם can be explained as follows: The מלאך came because בלעם was hoping to curse בני ישראל. The proof to this is that בלעם hit his donkey rather than curse it. The מלאך said to בלעם, “Why have you hit your donkey these three times? Why didn’t you curse it? Obviously, you hope to curse בני ישראל, and, therefore, cannot waste it on the donkey. I am here because you have set out to oppose Hashem by cursing בני ישראל!” In defense, בלעם replied, “I have no intention of cursing בני ישראל. As for cursing the donkey, I would if I could. However, I can only curse something at the moment Hashem is angry. Since I do not know when Hashem is angry, I was forced to hit the donkey instead.” As רש”י says, בלעם was forced to embarrass himself by saying that he did not know דעת עליון in order to deny the accusation of the מלאך. According to the בעל הטורים, concludes the ימין יוסף, the answer to all three questions becomes clear.