The Talmud asks the darnest questions. I mean, we all heard the story of how King Balak summons Balaam to curse the Children of Israel and how G‑d transforms the curses in the wicked prophet's mouth into blessings. We read the verses flowing from Balaam's lips, which include some of the most exquisite things ever said about the Jewish people. Beautiful story. But only the Talmud asks: What did Balaam want to say? What were those curses of his that were transformed into blessings?

Well, follows the Talmudic logic, if the curses were transformed into blessings, then the curses would be the diametric opposite of the blessings. If we wish to know what Balaam wanted to say, we should take a closer look at the words he actually mouthed.

What did Balaam bless? That great kings shall arise in Israel, establishing a dynasty that will span generations and never be disrupted; that Israel shall be sovereign in her land forever, the greatest and most powerful in the family of nations, the Divine Presence dwelling in her midst, leading mankind in their quest to know and serve their Maker. So what did Balaam want to say? The exact opposite, of course: that Israel's kings shall fall, her royal dynasty be cut off, her sovereignty cease, the Divine Presence in her Holy Temple depart, her power fail, her leadership fade.

But the Talmud doesn't leave it at that. Pressing its point, it insists: so what happened in the end? The days of David and Solomon saw the fulfillment of Balaam's blessings. But then everything began to fall apart. The people abandoned their G‑d, the nation was rent by strife; the Davidic dynasty was dethroned, the Holy Temple destroyed, the proud nation expelled from their land and subjugated and persecuted for centuries.

So in the end Balaam's curses prevailed! G‑d transformed them into blessings, but we transformed them back into Balaam's original format. The beautiful story came to a ruinous end.

But there is one blessing which we have retained. "How goodly are your tents, O Jacob," proclaimed Balaam from the Heights of Peor. These, says the Talmud, are the houses of prayer and the houses of learning planted in the heart of every Jewish community.

These tents and dwellings have never folded. After two dozen centuries as "children banished from their father's table," we still commune with G‑d three times a day in our houses of prayer. Thirty-three centuries after Sinai, the Torah is still studied, expounded and debated in our houses of learning.

To this blessing we have held fast. And this blessing shall restore all the others to us.