Balak means “destroyer,” and is the name of the king of Moab who wanted to curse the Jewish people in this Torah portion. Having seen the Israelites’ victory over the Amorites, as well as everything else that Israel had done, Balak became sick with fear—fear that they would be undefeatable in battle. To remedy this problem, he sent for the pagan prophet Balaam to curse the Children of Israel so they could be defeated.
When Balaam asked God if he could go, He told him not to curse the Israelites because they were a blessed people. Balaam sent back word that God would not allow him to go. Balak responded by sending dignitaries to plead with Balaam, offering him great riches in return for cursing the Jewish people. Despite being told “no” by God, Balaam asked again, and He allowed him to go on the condition that he would speak only what God would tell him to speak.
Once with Balak, Balaam tried to curse the Children of Israel three times, each time from a different location. Every time he opened his mouth to curse, he uttered blessings instead. Finally, Balak decided to send Balaam away. Prior to returning home, Balaam prophesied about the end of days.
Despite failing at his mission to curse the Israelites, Balaam suggested an alternative plan: getting the Israelites to anger God by tempting the Israelite men to sin with the idolatrous Moabite women, who would entice them to worship the idol Baal Peor. The plan was successful, and resulted in a plague that killed 24,000 Israelites. However, this plague was brought to an end by the brave actions of Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aaron the High Priest.