וַיַּרְא בָּלָק בֶּן צִפּוֹר אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יִשְׂרָאֵל לָאֱמֹרִי וַיָּגָר מוֹאָב מִפְּנֵי הָעָם מְאֹד כִּי רַב הוּא וַיָּקָץ מוֹאָב מִפְּנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. And Moab was very afraid of the people, because they were many; and Moab was overcome with fear of the people of Israel. (Numbers 22:2-3)
One may ask the following questions:1. Why does the Scripture begin and end by referring to Israel, but refer to "the people" (הָעָם) in between? 2. Why was it necessary to write both "Moab was in great dread" (וַיָּגָר מוֹאָב) and "Moab was overcome with fear" (וַיָּקָץ מוֹאָב)? What do the two verbs signify?
And it appears to our master that our Sages observed that the Moabites were not afraid that Israel might wage war against them, because Israel had already been commanded (Deuteronomy 2:9) "Do not harass Moab, or contend with them in battle" (אַל-תָּצַר אֶת-מוֹאָב, וְאַל-תִּתְגָּר בָּם, מִלְחָמָה). They were allowed, as the Ramban writes, only to confiscate provisions from Moab. What, then, caused their great anxiety? The Moabites had just seen what Israel had done to Sihon and Og, conquering their lands even though, situated on the eastern side of the Jordan, they had not been promised to Abraham's offspring. The Moabites, therefore, were afraid that, the Children of Israel being too numerous to be accommodated by the land of Canaan on the western side of the Jordan, the Mixed Multitude among the Children of Israel would attack Moab, conquer their land, and drive them from their homeland. They also feared that the Children of Israel, while passing through their land, would confiscate provisions from them.
The Scripture, therefore, writes that Balak saw all that Israel had done to the Emorites. And even though Israel had been commanded by the Eternal not to do the same to Moab, nevertheless, "Moab," as the Scripture writes, "was in great dread of the people," in view of the fact that the land of Israel was not spacious enough to accommodate both Israel and the Mixed Multitude. Here "the people" refers to the Mixed Multitude, because Moab feared that the Mixed Multitude would break off from the Children of Israel to conquer the land of Moab and expel the Moabites from their homeland. And the reason for the Moabites' fear was "for they were many" (כִּי רַב הוּא), so that they could not all dwell together in the land of the Canaanites. Besides their fear of the Mixed Multitude, Moab was gripped by terror and dread that the Children of Israel would launch raids against Moab to confiscate provisions, which is why the Scripture also writes "and Moab was overcome with fear of the Children of Israel."
According to the explanation of Rashi, this verb (וַיָּקָץ) is the same verb as (Genesis 27:46) "I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth" (קַצְתִּי בְחַיַּי מִפְּנֵי בְּנוֹת חֵת). The verse is abbreviated as if to say: "Moab was weary of life because of the Children of Israel." And Moab said: "although I would rather live than die, nevertheless, I am weary of a life in which there is no sustenance, for if they pass through my land, and launch raids to take provisions, they will take the bread from our own mouths."
וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים אֶל בִּלְעָם לֹא תֵלֵךְ עִמָּהֶם לֹא תָאֹר אֶת הָעָם כִּי בָרוּךְ הוּא
And G-d said to Balaam, You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people; for they are blessed. (Numbers 22:12)
Rashi comments: לֹא תֵלֵךְ עִמָּהֶם He (Bilam) said: If so, I will curse them in my own place. Whereupon G-d answered: לֹא תָאֹר אֶת-הָעָם (you shall not curse the people). He said to Him: If so, I will bless them. He replied to him: They do not need your blessing, for they are blessed.
See the Siftei Hakhamim. But he did not direct his comments properly. And our master explains that Rashi commented that there was a conversation between the Eternal and Balaam, because the Scripture did not write "you shall not curse the people" with a conjoining "vav" (i.e., did not write "וְלֹא תָאֹר אֶת הָעָם"). From this it is apparent that not cursing them was a commandment separate from not going with Balak's messengers. Moreover, if the Eternal closed the path to prevent Balaam from accompanying the messengers, how could he then dare to curse the people? Why then did G-d have to say explicitly "you shall not curse the people"? That is why Rashi explains that, after being told not to go with Balak's messengers, Balaam still wished to curse them in his own place, so that G-d had to respond to him with the explicit commandment "you shall not curse the people." For, in his towering arrogance, Balaam thought that the Eternal had not allowed him to go with these men because they were insufficiently important and distinguished for Balaam's honor, but that he would have been allowed to go with a more distinguished entourage than the one Balak originally sent. Indeed, Balaam told them (Numbers 22:13): "the Lord has refused to let me go with you" (מֵאֵן יְהוָה, לְתִתִּי לַהֲלֹךְ עִמָּכֶם). Did not Balaq therefore send a larger and more distinguished delegation of ministers after Balaam refused to return with the first delegation? When the delegation from Balak came to Balaam, the Eternal, therefore, did not say to Balaam that he should only go in the company of the kings and the mighty ones of the earth. Rather, the Eternal had to tell him explicitly that he should not go to curse the people. And see how the Ramban explains why the Eternal was angered that Balaam went with the delegation from Balak.
However, Rashi's comment that, after being told not to curse Israel, Balaam said, "if so let me bless them," is very obscure. How is it that Balaam, an enemy of the Children of Israel, was suddenly transformed into a loyal friend who wished to bless them? And it appears to our master that it might be possible to answer in the light of the statement of the Sages that the Moabites were not afraid that Israel would wage war against them, because G-d had commanded Israel "Do not harass Moab, or contend with them in battle." Israel had, however, been permitted to confiscate supplies from the Moabites. And this greatly frightened Moab. However, a nation would not conduct such raids unless it lacked adequate supplies with which to support its soldiers. Balaam therefore said, if I cannot curse them, then I will bless them, so that they will be wealthy and will have houses filled with every good thing, in which case they will have no need to launch raids against Moab.