Moshe wrote the Torah
PLEASE NOTE: Because of the timing of the end of Pesach, Balak is the Parasha this week in Israel and next week in the Diaspora.
The Talmud (Bava Batra 14b) states that, “Moshe wrote his book, Parshat Bilaam, and Iyov.” I guess it goes without saying that Moshe wrote his book – the Torah, also known as the Five Books of Moses. There is a discussion on the following page about who wrote the last eight verses of the Torah – the ones that describe Moshe’s death. But the rest of it was definitely written by Moshe.
The Talmud tells us that the book of Iyov was written by Moshe, because otherwise I would not have known that this existentialist work, about the nature of reward and punishment, came from Moshe’s pen. It also teaches us that Iyov, a righteous non-Jew, lived at the time of Moshe. According to Rava, he died and was buried just when the spies went into Israel. Alternatively, according to Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani, the book of Iyov is a metaphor, and he never existed at all. There are several other opinions. So it makes sense that the Talmud tells us that Moshe wrote that book.
Why the story of Bilaam?
But why does the Talmud tell us that Moshe wrote the story of Bilaam? That is part of the Torah, the main section of Parshat Balak. If Moshe wrote the entire Torah, why would anyone think he didn’t write this week’s Torah portion?
The answer is, because Moshe wasn’t there. The entire story of Bilaam trying and failing to curse the Israelites was something they could not have known about unless it was revealed to Moshe.
Sure, Moshe wasn’t at creation either, or at any of the events before his birth. But the children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov had traditions for everything described in Bereishit, so even though he wasn’t born, Moshe would have known those stories.
But there is no way he could have known about Bilaam.
Balak sent messengers to Bilaam, not once but twice. An angel tried to prevent Bilaam from going to curse the Israelites. The donkey spoke. Balak went with Bilaam to build altars and offer sacrifices in preparation for the curses. And Bilaam gave the Jewish people some of the greatest blessings they ever received, including words that are now part of our daily prayer service.
But none of that involved the Children of Israel in any way. The beauty of the curses (or so Balak thought) was that he could defeat the Israelites from a distance, without ever having to fight them.
What about the history books?
Perhaps you will say that Moshe could have heard about Balak and Bilaam from the history books. We read just last week, “Therefore it is said, in the book of the Wars of God,” (Bamidbar 21:14). So Moshe may have known the contemporary books that were being written.
But Bilaam is different. We say that history is written by the victors. The story of Balak and Bilaam was one where both of them lost. Neither would have been proud of Balak blessing the Israelites. Neither would have boasted about it to the newspapers, or whatever they had back then.
So, someone reading the Torah may ask how it came to be included in the Five Books. How would anyone in the Israelite camp know what had taken place? The answer, says that Talmud, is that it was written by Moshe. And like everything else he wrote in the Torah, he knew it because God told him.
The greatest blessing nearly went unmentioned
Just think, the greatest blessing the Jewish people ever received; the tremendous salvation from the enemy; the kindness of God for blocking Balak’s attempts at cursing, all of these things went on without anyone in the Israelite camp knowing, until afterwards when Moshe told them and wrote it down.
Nowadays, we are showered with so much information, from the news, social media, the internet. We think we know what is going on everywhere by everyone.
We don’t know everything
This week’s Torah portion reminds us that we may not know even the most important things, the events that change our lives. Without Moshe and the Torah, we would never have known about Bilaam. And today, we must also remember the limits of our knowledge.