Let me share a thought based on Kabbalah, Jewish Mysticism. One theme that is developed in Kabbalah is a belief in reincarnation, that souls, once they have left this world, can be reborn in another person. That person revisits this world in order to correct or remedy a wrong that was committed in a previous life. The belief in reincarnation is not a dogma of Judaism. The great Saadiah Gaon (Iraq, 882-942) amongst others, rejected such a notion (Beliefs and Opinions 6:8). Nevertheless, under the influence of the Ari Hakadosh (Safed, 1534-1572) the belief became very significant.

The villain of this week’s sidra, Balaam, who is hired by Balak to curse the Jewish people, is identified as a reincarnation of Laban, the brother of Rebecca and father of Rachel and Leah. Rabbi Shimon Schwab (Germany, New York, 1908-1995) in his commentary, Mei’ein Beit Hasho’evah (325), sees a profound link between these two personalities.

When Jacob, having endured twenty years of capricious treatment at the hand of Laban, finally makes off with his household, Laban pursues after him. G-d appears to Laban in a dream and tells him, “Be very careful not to say anything, good or bad, to Jacob.” (Genesis 31:24.) Laban catches up with Jacob and proceeds, immediately, to berate Jacob, blatantly quoting G-d’s words, and ignoring them:


“How could you do this? You went behind my back and led my daughters away like prisoners of war! Why did you have to leave so secretly? You went behind my back and told me nothing! Why, I would have sent you off with celebration and song, with drum and lyre! You didn't even let me kiss my grandsons and daughters goodbye. What you did was very foolish. I have it in my power to do you great harm. But your father's G-d spoke to me last night and said, ‘Be very careful not to say anything, good or bad, to Jacob’.”


Laban goes further and proceeds to ransack Jacob’s camp, looking for his teraphim or house-gods.


This brazen defiance of G-d’s instructions is remedied, generations later, when Laban is reincarnated as Balaam. Even though Balaam is offered enormous wealth to curse the Jewish people, he declares:


“Even if Balak gives me his whole palace full of gold and silver, I cannot do anything good or bad on my own that would violate G-d’s word…I must proclaim whatever G-d declares.” (Numbers 24:13)


The circle is closed. The desire to curse the Jewish people is finally subdued as Balaam recognises that he has to submit to the will of G-d.

Dayan Ivan Binstock