For there is no evil spell with Yaakov, neither is there any magic with Israel: In due time it shall be said to Yaakov and to Israel: “What has G- d wrought!?” (Bamidbar 23:23)
How do we make sense of this prophetic description of the Jewish People by Bilaam? What does the first part of the verse have to do with the second part? It seems rather cryptic at best and disjointed at worst. How can we understand the flow of ideas in a meaningful way?
The Dubno Maggid asked this very question and not surprisingly offered a parable to explain: A nobleman heard that in a far off country a man had invented a powerfully effective cream. Whoever would apply this substance to their body would be rendered invulnerable. Since this nobleman, in order to carry on his business, had to travel through dark and dangerous forests and lonely places where he would be an easy target for robbers he gladly underwent the great effort and expense of traveling to the inventor and procuring the potent potion. Now each time he was readying himself to leave home and go out onto his dangerous ways, he would liberally cover his entire body with the expensive ointment to insure that he would be safe.
One time on his way back home he was traveling through a particularly dark and deserted place and suddenly he was attacked by a gang of violent highwaymen. They tried with all their might or beat or harm the nobleman in whichever way they could but they were only met with increasing frustration. He remained unhurt by all their many efforts. Thinking that he must be exercising some sort form of magic they became scared and so they fled in terror. We can only imagine their surprise when the intended victim called them back and invited them to drink some brandy. At first they were very suspicious and cautious. They looked at him with distrust and they asked why he would be so kind to them after they had just tried to kill him and rob him.
The nobleman replied, “I am really grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to prove something that I could not have been certain of
otherwise. I have just gone through the great trouble and expense to secure a miraculous ointment which I was told would make me immune from any physical attack. I was never quite sure whether or not I was being cheated. I never would have been courageous enough to find out through my own deliberate action whether or not it was truly effective but now, through your vain efforts, I have been convinced that my investment was a certainly worthwhile. The special ointment really works!”
The Jewish People like that nobleman had always lived with the assumption they were immune to magic and evil spells as the verse says, “For there is no evil spell with Yaakov, neither is their magic with Israel…” Yaakov Avinu had dodged and avoided for twenty years the constant concoction of evil spells launched at him by Lavan. He remained unharmed. Now Bilaam took up the cause of cursing the Jewish People but he was woefully unsuccessful. He ended up blessing us instead. That is the moment of “in due time” the verse refers to. At the moment when the Jewish People became aware of the validity of the ancient promise of Divine Providence through the thwarted attempts of would-be attackers like Bilaam they then declared with renewed confidence, “What has G-d wrought?!” Hey it works for us too!
We should not be surprised then by what Leo Tolstoy, the famous Russian author, had observed about the Jewish People, “The Jew is the emblem of eternity. He whom neither slaughter nor torture of thousands of years could destroy, he whom neither fire nor the sword of inquisition was able to wipe off the face of the earth, he who was the first to produce the oracles of G-d, he who has be for so long the guardian of prophecy, and who transmitted it to the rest of the world- such a nation cannot be destroyed. The Jew is as everlasting as eternity itself.”
Now those words were penned by Leo Tolstoy in 1891. Since then many more diabolical threats against the Jewish People have been and are still being attempted. So armed with that awareness we too are compelled to declare with both alarm and amazement, “What has G-d wrought!?” Hey it works for us too! DvarTorah, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org.