We learn more from one’s body language than we do from one’s words.
“Would you like a slice of pie?”
“No, no thank you,” Bob answers, edging slightly closer to the buffet table.
“Are you sure you don’t want anything?”
“No. I’m not hungry. Well, since you insist I’ll just have one.”
Bob then helps himself to a heaping plate of deserts from the buffet, which he can’t seem to eat fast enough.
Bilaam’s interaction with the messengers of Moab and Midian sounds similar to the above exchange. Bilaam’s words expressed reluctance and hesitation. “I have to ask permission from Lord.” He dismisses the first delegation altogether, implying in his farewell words that they were not worthy enough a delegation for him to accompany. Balak then sends another delegation, comprised of higher officials and elite ministers. Again, Bilaam expresses hesitation and must seek approval from God. Once permission is given, although the permission is conditional, Bilaam leaps at the opportunity. He saddles his donkey (Numbers 22:21) and sets out without delay. He makes no mention of the condition imposed by God either.
A person of Bilaam’s stature would not normally saddle his own donkey. The stable boy should take care of that. In his zeal to curse the Israelite nation Bilaam sacrificed his own dignity.
From every passage of the Torah we can glean numerous lessons. Bilaam is no exception. He is a role model for us. For something important to him Bilaam disregarded social etiquette. Do we display similar zeal when we do good things?
This lesson is brought out also in Jacob’s meeting with Esau. He sent servants ahead with gifts for Esau and the following message: “…with Laban I have lived and I have lingered until now.” (Genesis 32:5) Rashi, using a Midrashic interpretation explains the message as follows. ‘I have lived with Laban but I still observed the lifestyle of our father. I did not learn from Laban’s evil ways.’ The commentaries observe here a confession from Jacob. I did not learn from his evil ways – I did not pick up the enthusiasm with which Laban runs to perform evil and apply it to my own observance of good.