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Home » Balak

Balak: Slander and Narcissism

Submitted by on July 15, 2005 – 2:45 pmNo Comment | 2,541 views

Bilaam

Bilaam was a narcissistic megalomaniac. He would have made an interesting case study had he been analyzed by modern psychologists. He was a master manipulator who tried to bend everyone to his will. He even attempted to manipulate G-d! (1)

He saw himself as the focal point of his universe and believed that the whole world belonged to him. In his demented mind, he reversed the chronological order of his family tree. Though Bilaam was the son of Beor, he regularly introduced himself as his father’s father – Bilaam, father of Beor! (2)

Most people were blind to Bilaam’s shortcomings. He was, after all, a respected prophet, but his dementia was obvious to anyone who cared to look . His voracious appetite, his colossal arrogance, his vile temper and his brazen claims of grandiosity amounted to sheer Chutzpah. (3)

Laban

Laban, uncle and father-in-law of the patriarch Jacob, was the only other person described in the Torah as manipulative as Bilaam. The reader will recall that Jacob asked Laban for his daughter Rachel’s hand in matrimony. Laban agreed, but instead of offering a dowry for his daughter as is customary, Laban expected a dowry from Jacob! Laban apparently considered it a great honor for anyone to join his family and considered himself entitled to a dowry. (4)

Jacob was penniless but agreed to pay his dowry in kind. He worked diligently for seven years in anticipation of his upcoming marriage, but we all know the result of this work. Laban switched the bride on the night of the wedding and Jacob, oblivious to the switch, married the wrong sister.

When Jacob confronted Laban the next morning, Laban brazenly turned the tables and accused Jacob of impropriety. “One should never marry the younger sister before the older one,” charged Laban, “What else could you have expected from me?” The next statement was simply astounding. “Work seven more years,” said Laban, “and I will gladly allow you to marry Rachel.” Because of his consuming love for Rachel, Jacob agreed to the new deal.

Thirteen years later, Laban finally confessed his megalomania to Jacob. Having invested twenty years with Laban, Jacob had slowly grown wealthy in his own right, but he soon detected that Laban and his sons were plotting against him.

Jacob gathered his family and belongings and fled Laban’s estate before his uncle could harm him. When Laban heard of the escape, he was incensed and gave chase. He reached Jacob and sternly demanded an explanation for the stealthy departure.

Jacob was a free and independent man. His contract with Laban had long since run out. He was not beholden to Laban and was free to go as he pleased. Yet Laban felt that he was entitled to rule his nephew. When challenged, Laban declared, “Your sons are my sons, your daughters are my daughters, your cattle are my cattle. All that you see belongs to me.”

Here Laban showed his true colors. Laban was a narcissist,slander and narcissism - innerstream which is how he justified collecting a dowry from Jacob. To his way of thinking, he owned everyone and everything, including Jacob. This is also how he justified switching the bride under Jacob’s marriage canopy. To his way of thinking, his daughters were his possessions. To his way of thinking, Jacob’s time, family and money all belonged to him.

We see a strong parallel between Laban and Bilaam. In fact Kabbalah teaches that Bilaam’s soul was a reincarnation of Laban’s. They shared characteristics because they shared a soul. (5)

The Curse

Of all his faults, Kabbalah speaks most harshly of Bilaam’s slanderous mouth.  Bilaam’s prophecy was in high currency. Nations at war paid astronomical fees to have Bilaam curse their enemies.

When asked to condemn a nation Bilaam would begin by enumerating before G-d the faults and sins of that nation, thus making a case for excoriation. He would then wait for the moment of divine wrath and when it came he would quickly curse.

The Talmud teaches that G-d allows himself an infinitesimal moment of wrath every day. This moment is so brief that it is nearly impossible to pinpoint. Bilaam’s prophetic gift was his ability to identify this moment and utilize it against his enemies.

Each denunciation began with slander, and it is this fault that the Kabbalah highlights for opprobrium.

Slander

The act of slander requires a prerequisite that Bilaam had in abundance – narcissism. It is therefore appropriate that Bilaam is held  up as a slanderer. (5)

Slander is a vicious sin that robs another not only of reputation but also of privacy. The information shared by the slanderer does not belong to the slanderer but to the slandered. Before sharing the information with another, the slanderer must first take ownership of the information. How does one allow oneself to take ownership of another’s information?

It begins by viewing the world from a self-centered perspective. Slandering others is perversely enjoyable and a narcissist feels entitled to that which benefits him or her.  Conveniently forgetting the pain it causes others, the narcissist considers only the pleasure it brings him or her. Slanderers may not perceive their own narcissism, but it is certainly there. If it weren’t, they would certainly feel their victim’s pain.

Without realizing it, the slanderer takes license not only with the victims’ information but also with their lives. It is therefore fitting that Bilaam, the greatest egomaniac of all, was held up for opprobrium as the greatest slanderer of all.

Footnotes

  1. For the entire story of Bilaam, see Numbers: 22-24. Balak, King of Moab, hired Bilaam to curse the Jewish nation. G-d instructed Bilaam to go to Moab but warned him that he would not be permitted to curse the Jewish nation. He would have to bless them. Bilaam embarked on his journey with a clear plan to manipulate G-d and force him to accept the curse. See Rashi on Numbers: 22, 21.
  2. Numbers: 23, 18. Numbers: 24, 4, 16.This novel interpretation follows the commentary of Rabbi Mordechai Elon, dean of Yeshivat Hakotel.
  3. Numbers: 22, 8, 18, 23, 29. Numbers: 23, 4, 18. Numbers 24, 2. See Rashi, ibid. See also Ethics of our Fathers, 5, 19.
  4. For the entire story of Laban, see Genesis: 29-32.
  5. Shaar Hagilgulim: 31
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