Thursday, February 17, 2005

Batteling About Ballam

Mis-Nagid, our friendly-neighborhood kofer, posted a little competetion yesterday, that brought to mind what very well may have been my first-ever argument with a Rabbi.

If you're Orthodox and a graduate of pre-school, you know that Billam was a prophet. If you continued your education, you know that the discussion ends there. You see, the (other) dirty secret of Jewish education is that most of your top Middle School and High School instructors never tell you that Rashi's view on the subject is often rejected by other authorities. I would be glad to suggest that this is because they don't know that Rashi isn't the final word on biblical exegesis but that would be disrespectful, and I am all about the respect.

Here, verbatim from memory, is the argument from 9th, or maybe 10th grade.

Rabbi: Billam was a prophet!

DovBear: Um, aren't there other views on the subject? [This is called "baiting the victim," for you argument amatures.]

Rabbi: It's right here in Rashi. Billam was a prophet!

DovBear: Well, what about the Ramban? Does he have anything to say on the subject [This is called "asking a question when you already know the answer."]

I'm trying to teach a class here, DovBear.

DovBear: That's ok... let me take a quick look and see what I can find (big show of rustling pages. My thumb was on the right page from the begining.) Ah, here we are: (Numbers 31, 8)
The Ramban says: "And they killed Bil'am son of Be'or by the sword. We see from this that Bilam was not a prophet. It is inconceivable that Israel would have been permitted to kill a Prophet of God."*

Rabbi: You don't understand the Ramban!

Ah memories. With medication I can control them

*The citation, like the argument is from memory. I'll look it up later and put in the exact words.

Above I gave the wrong verse, but the words I cited from memory (aproximately)can be found in the Ramban's commentary to Num 22:31. The translation is Chaval's (pg 258):

"...and God-Forbid that they should stretrch forth a hand against a prophet of God."

On the same verse the Ramban says: "From this verse we learn the Balaam was not a prophet because had he been a prophet how could it be that he required "opening of the eyes... and indeed scripture calls him a Ballam ben Beor, the soothsayer[Kosaim]"