By Rabbi Alex Chapper
Disappointed by Bilam’s repeated failure to fulfil his mission, Balak is about to give up when Bilam offers him a piece of advice on how to overcome the Jewish people.
The rabbis understand that he suggested a way of enticing the people into immorality with Moabite women – a method that proved successful and resulted in the death by plague of 24,000.
But what happened to Bilam? It would appear that the chief protagonist left destruction in his wake and just returned to his people and lived happily ever after.
Or did he? In parshat Matot, Moses is charged by God with one final task before his imminent demise – to avenge the Midianites for having tempted the children of Israel into idolatry.
The Torah records that Moses wastes no time and appoints the zealot Pinchas to lead an army who kill every Moabite male, including the five kings of Midian – Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba, and, in addition, they also kill a certain “old friend” – Bilam.
The commentators Rashi and Ibn Ezra both explain that when Bilam heard that his advice had been successful, he went to Midian to claim his fee for services rendered, but little did he realise what his true “reward” would be.
What emerges from this episode and is particularly highlighted by the hiatus between Bilam’s evil counsel and his fate is that no action goes uncompensated.
There might not be a direct and immediate consequence to good and evil, but the balance will always be paid eventually, and although it might take days, weeks, months or even years, it will happen as the attributes of Divine mercy and justice demand it.
• Rabbi Alex Chapper is minister of Ilford Federation Synagogue and the Children’s Rabbi. For more information, visit: www.childrensrabbi.com