one among Pharaoh's servants that feared the word of Hashem
whisked his servants and livestock indoors (Exodus 9:20).
Moshe very graciously gave the Egyptians ample
warning that they were about to be stricken by barad, the seventh
plague. Hailstones would rain down from the heavens and destroy everything in the field. If they wanted to save their
livestock, they should bring them indoors quickly. What did the Egyptians do? The
Torah tells us (9:20-21), “The one among Pharaoh’s servants that feared the word
of Hashem whisked his servants and livestock indoors. But the one that paid no heed
to Hashem’s word left his slaves and livestock in the field.”
Statistic are usually quite
reliable, especially when the percentages are very high. So far,
Moshe was “six for six” in his predictions about the upcoming
plagues. He had not yet made a single mistake. One would think the
probability of his being right again regarding the seventh plague
was pretty high. So why didn’t all the Egyptians pull their slaves
and livestock indoors until the danger passed, at least on the off
chance that Moshe was right? Wasn’t it stupid of them to leave
everything outside where there was a good chance it would be
The Midrash identifies “the one that feared the word of Hashem” as Iyov and “the
one that paid no heed to Hashem’s word” as Bilam, both of whom were advisers to
was an interesting fellow. In some ways, he was intelligent, even brilliant, but
in other he was quite obtuse, a person so focused on himself that that he “pays
no heed” to what is going on around him.
Many years later, when Balak hired Bilam to curse the Jews, he mounted his trusted
donkey and began the journey. Then his donkey saw a sword-wielding angel in the
middle of the road and he came to a sudden stop, refusing to budge an inch no matter
how much Bilam prodded and cursed him. Finally, miraculously, the donkey spoke to
Bilam, “Is this my normal pattern of behavior? Have I not been your trusted donkey
for all these years? Have I ever stalled on you once or given you a moment of trouble?
So why are you beating up on me?” In other words, can’t you see that something extraordinary
is happening here? Why don’t you pay attention to what’s going on, Bilam? Wake up!
The Chafetz Chaim points out that the entire episode of Bilam in the Torah appears
as one long uninterrupted narrative, no stumos, no psuchos, no breaks
whatsoever. Why? Because Bilam never stopped to think about what he was doing. He
never stopped to take stock and consider the wisdom of his actions.
This was Bilam. When Moshe issued his warning about the impending hailstorm,
Bilam could not be bothered to “pay heed” to it. He was thinking about his own plans,
his own agenda. His mind was made up.
We think this sort of behavior is bizarre. We laugh at Bilam’s foolishness. But
are we that much better ourselves? Consider just a small thing, the pace of life.
It used to be that we had to spend inordinate amounts of time on tasks that are
accomplished easily and quickly by modern appliances. We have automobiles, self-defrosting
refrigerators, washing machines and dryers, fax machines. The list is practically
limitless. So have we had a net gain in time? Have we managed to catch our breaths
because of all these labor-saving devices? Do we have more time to learn, to spend
with the family, to reflect, to rest?
In fact, just the opposite is true. We are more rushed than ever. The pace of
life is so rapid that we can barely breathe. Something
is wrong. But do we “pay heed”? Do we stop and think about what is going on around
us? Do we stop to assess our lives to see if we may perhaps have gone a little off
the track? It is not only Bilam that fails to stop and think.