Balak, king of Moab, sees the legions of Israel approach his borders, and in fright calls upon Balaam to curse and thus destroy Israel. However, instead of cursing, Balaam praises Israel with words incorporated into the daily prayers - "How goodly are your tents O Jacob, your dwelling-places O Israel." What did he mean, and do we mean the same thing when we repeat his words in prayers?

The blessing of Balaam can be a curse, because his paeans of praise may be the antithesis of Israel's spirit. The tone of Judaism is growth, constant advance in the realm of the spirit, in Torah learning, in development of character. Self-satisfaction, contentment with past achievements - these lead to stagnation.

Balaam was telling Israel they were good enough already, no need to be any betterThe goodliness of Jacob's tents is to be held up as a goal, an incentive. In spiritual affairs (if not necessarily in material strivings) a goal achieved gives one a higher vantage point to see more enticing horizons ahead. The higher the attainment the greater the awareness of the task uncompleted, the profounder the appreciation of the challenge still faced.

Balaam was telling Israel they were good enough already, no need to be any better. He wished to vitiate Israel's urge to strive, to make the Jew content with what he is so that he will never progress. And the soul, Balaam knew well, never stands still. We are not the same today as yesterday. Either we go up, or we inevitably go down. Balaam wanted Israel to believe they had reached the summit, they may rest; his intentions were that by ceasing to go forward Israel would fall.