Two Hebrew proverbs and the story of Balaam the son of Beor

Even though our weekly Torah portion is named after Balak the son of Zippor the king of Moab, the main figure of this story is Balaam the son of Beor – who was requested by Balak to curse the Israelites but ended up blessing them instead (Numbers 22-23).

This biblical story gave rise to TWO famous idioms in the Hebrew language. The first one is ‘Ba Le-Kalel Ve-Yatza Mevarech’ {בא לקלל ויצא מברך} which literally means ‘one wanted to curse but ended up blessing.’ It is used in Hebrew in a situation in which a person has bad intentions and wants to criticize or say bad things about someone/something but without noticing he or she actually made the someone/something look GOOD.

The second idiom is taken from an interesting Midrash (an old Jewish lesson) which interprets the nature of the following biblical verse:

“God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” (Numbers 22:12)

According to the Midrash, there was a hidden dialogue there between God and Balaam:

First God told Balaam ‘You shall not go with them’ and Balaam replied ‘So I will curse them (the Israelites) from where I am now without going someplace else.’ God then said ‘You shall not curse the people’ and Balaam replied ‘So I will bless them instead.’ God’s answer was ‘there is no need to bless them for they are (already) blessed.’

The Midrash continues and ends with the following words:

“The same as with the wasp: ‘Lo Me-Duvshech Ve-Lo Me-Uktzech.’” {לא מדובשך ולא מעוקצך} This Hebrew idiom literally means ‘Not from your honey and not from your stinger’ or in other words, I have no desire for what you are suggesting to me, not for the good in it and not for the bad in it.

Note: This old Jewish story is over 1000 years old and it originated in the Galilee (the northern part of the land of Israel). Back then, the Hebrew word ‘Tzerah’ {צרעה} (‘wasp’) was used to describe bees as well.