For an explanation of the methodology of this series, see the introduction.

"Moab said to the elders of Midian, 'Now this assembly will eat up everything around us, as the ox eats up the greens of the field.' Balak the son of Zippor was king of Moab at that time" (Num. 22:4)

Peshat (basic meaning):

Rashi: "to the elders of Midian"
...because of their mutual fear of Israel, they made peace with each other. But did they not always hate each other, as it says, "who defeated Midian in the field of Moab" (Gen. 36:35) when Midian came against Moab in battle? However, because of their mutual fear of Israel, they made peace with each other. And what did Moab see to take counsel with Midian? Since they saw that Israel was supernaturally victorious [in their battles], they said, "The leader of these [people] was raised in Midian. Let us ask them what his character is." They told them, "His strength is solely in his mouth." They said, "We too will come against them with a man whose strength is in his mouth."

Rashi: "as the ox eats up"
Whatever the ox has eaten up no longer contains blessing [because the ox uproots the plants it eats.

Rashi: "at that time"
He was not entitled to the monarchy. He was one of the Midianite nobles [according to some: of the nobles of Sichon (Josh. 13:21)], and when Sichon died, they appointed him over them on a temporary basis.

Remez (hinted meaning):

Baal HaTurim:"they will lick up"
This is used twice in Scriptures:
(1) here: "now the congregation will lick up" and
(2) "they will lick the dirt like the snake", which discusses the future redemption of Israel. This is in accord with the verse "Just as they did at the tidings of Egypt, will they too tremble at the tidings of Tyre" This indicates that just as awe of Israel fell upon all the nations, then so will it be in the future.

Derash (interpretive meaning):

Targum Yonatan: "And he sent"
to Laban the Aramite who was Balaam (so called because it was) he who sought to swallow up ('MiBilu'a') the people ('Ama') of the house of Israel; the son of Be'or, who was insane from the vastness of his knowledge; and would not spare Israel, the descendants of his sons and daughters: and the house of his habitation in Padan was at Pethor, a name signifying an interpreter of dreams. It was built in Aram upon the Euphrates, in a land where the children of the people worshipped and adored him. (To him did Balak send) to call him, saying: "Now, I entreat, come, curse this people for me, for they are stronger than I, if I may but be able to meet them, though smaller than they, and drive them from the land. For I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed." [verse 6]

Ohr HaChayim: "at that time"
...Balak was king "at that time", neither earlier nor later. The Torah emphasizes that Balak was king "at that time", neither earlier nor later. Once Balaam told Moab that they had nothing to fear from Israel in the future, they dismissed Balak from his position and sent him home. The best proof of this is when the Torah numbers the princes killed in the fight launched by Israel after Pinchas's famous deed, Tzur was listed as one of the casualties.

"Around us'"
Perhaps the Moabites did not want to reveal to the elders of Midian the extent of their fear of the Israelites, so they described the presence of Israelites in that part of the world as kind of an ecological disaster. They spoke of "our environment" to include the Midianites as potential victims.

R. David Wolfe-Blank: According to Kabbalah, Balaam represents da'at of kelipa. Kelipa means "shell" and refers to the covering of the Divine, signifying all the forces that support illusion and denial. da'at/knowledge of kelipa represents a topsy-turvy form of awareness. This da'at lacks the mental breadth which could integrate a whole and integral view. In defense of what it perceives to be an environment of ambiguous and painful energies, the consciousness shifts to rigidity and illusion to protect itself.

A source for this interpretation is in the name of Balaam's father, Be'or. This is the name of one of the early Kings: Bela Ben Beor of Canaan. (Gen. 36:31-39) The Kabbalah interprets their mention in the Torah as representing the Sefirot in an early developmental stage in which the consciousness was unable to coexist with the forces nurturing it and a shattering of its containment vessels occurred. Balaam is the development/descendant of a shattered part of the Divine mind. The whole episode of Balaam striking his donkey represents a mental dynamic whereby a fearful mind becomes exaggerated and fears future pain. (Based on Likutei Levi Yitzhak on Zohar and Talmud)

Sod (esoteric, mystical meaning):

Zohar Balak 189:
"And Moab said to the elders of Midian." It does not say, 'The elders of Moab said to the elders of Midian', but "Moab said." That means that the young took counsel of the elders, and the older ones followed after and gave them advice. What was the advice with which they counseled them? They took for themselves bad advice. They said to Moab, We have grown a bad crop among us. And who is it? It is their master, Moses.

There was among us a priest who took care of him and supported him in his house and gave him his daughter for a wife. Furthermore, he gave him money and sent him to Egypt to destroy the whole country. And he and his entire household got carried away after him. If we could root out from the world that master of theirs, all his people would be uprooted from the world. The entire disastrous advice in the matters of Pe'or stemmed from Midian.

BeRahamim LeHayyim:
What is the import of this Holy Zohar, and how does it help us in any way?
...the young leaders asked the elders for advice, and the advice was bad.
It seems to indicate that the young leaders asked the elders for advice, and the advice was bad.

We read in the Mishna:

Rabbi Yosi the son of Judah of Kfar HaBavli would say: One who learns Torah from youngsters, whom is he comparable to? To one who eats unripe grapes and drinks [unfermented] wine from the press. One who learns Torah from the old, whom is he comparable to? To one who eats ripened grapes and drinks aged wine.

Said Rabbi Meir: Look not at the vessel, but at what it contains. There are new vessels that are filled with old wine, and old vessels that do not even contain new wine
Giving advice is tricky stuff. Kind of like giving rebuke; perhaps there are few today who really know how to do it well.

The problem with the Midianite elders is that they got personal, namely they had issues and "stuff" and "baggage" that they injected and infused in their "counsel" .

Not good.

When someone comes for advice, even the more so for spiritual advice, it is important to be able to first know WHAT the person is asking for.

Next is almost as important: not to carry any "hidden" agendas into your advice. Don't do what you think is best for you, nor put yourself in that person's exact place. Empathy and sympathy is important, but so too is cold rational left-brain calculus.

Sometimes we have to say we can't give advice because we can't be objective. Other times we may be perfectly suited to do so.
The externalities are not important...
The externalities are not important, rather the inner dimension, as given over by R. Meir.

And boy, he should know, big time. R. Meir had as his teacher the famous "Acher" "the Other", R. Elisha ben Abuya who opened up this Mishna with "Elisha the son of Avuyah would say: One who learns Torah in his childhood, what is this comparable to? To ink inscribed on fresh paper. One who learns Torah in his old age, what is this comparable to? To ink inscribed on erased paper."

Namely, be careful with those who learned Torah in their old age, who are kind of like "smudged paper".

We are told that R. Meir "sucked the juice of the pomegranate and threw away the shell". Some say that meant he received the inner dimension of teachings from the noted heretic R. Elisha, and tossed out the external problematic teachings.

We must try not to fall into the trappings of "judging a book by its cover", as did the youngsters of Moab who solicited the advice of the elders of Midian, to their downfall.

On the other side, giving advice in any context — personal, business, or Jewish legal — is a sacred process where the giver must be able to assess and process and bestow for the sake of Heaven and not for some personal self-interest. Easier said than done.

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