Hebrew In Israel | Bil’am – Learn Torah

Hebrew In Israel | Bil’am – Learn Torah

Yoel Halevi No Comments

The Torah teaches us that Bil’am was extremely important at his time.  This importance echoed into later times and to the Jewish sages who recognized how powerful he was.  This power was so great that rabbis said he was called to do the job of cursing because he had the same God-given gift as Moses—the power of speech.

Bil’am’s name was so revered, that later generations recorded his prophecies on a wall at Deir Alla in the Jordan valley.  The inscription is dated to the 8th century BC and was written with red ink on wall plaster at Dir El ‘Allah.  The prophecies are of an end of days scenario, with apocalyptic ideas.

I remember learning the story of Bil’am many years ago, and I remember the discussion in class about a word that made us all wonder.  Bil’am boasts and the Torah records him saying the following

“וַיִּשָּׂא מְשָׁלוֹ וַיֹּאמַר נְאֻם בִּלְעָם בְּנוֹ בְעֹר וּנְאֻם הַגֶּבֶר שְׁתֻם הָעָיִן” (Num 24:3). 

This is the speech of Bil‘am, son of B‘or;
the speech of the man whose eyes have been opened

The word Shetum was very confusing for readers because many related it to Setum which means “blocked”, but that didn’t make sense.  To explain this we need to explain a short point about Hebrew phonetics and the graphic representation of the consonants. 

As some may know, Hebrew has two forms of ש, one with a dot on the right top side creating an SH/š sound.  The other ש has the dot on the left side creating the sound of S.  When realizing this, we know that it means “one with an open eye” meaning that he had a clear sight of things spiritually. 

This description is consistent with the description from Dir El ‘Allah written in Aramaic:

?[זנה]? ספר [.ב]לעם [.בר בעיר. אש. חזה. אלהן.] הא[.] ויאתו. אלוה. אלהן. בלילה]

This is the book of Bl’am the son of B’yr man who sees god …and god came at night

This teaches us how important the vowel points are for correctly understanding the text, one little dot can change it all.  Another thing we can learn is that with all due respect to power, we learn that no matter how important you are if you stand against God you will fall, and it says: 

“And Bil’am the son of Be’or the sorcerer they slew by the sword.” (Num 31:8).

Bil’am was seen at the end as a sorcerer who exploited his special relationship with God. He forgot his place and ended up losing his special place as a man of God.

Originally Published:  October 27, 2014

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