Parashat Balak begins by describing the reaction of Balak, the king of Moav, to Benei Yisrael’s stunning conquest of the territory of the neighboring kingdoms. Fearful that Benei Yisrael might attack his kingdom, Balak summoned Bilam to place a curse on Benei Yisrael.
Surprisingly, Balak hired Bilam not to bless Moav with greater military power, but rather to curse Benei Yisrael. Rather than try to improve his nation’s capabilities, Balak instead tried to diminish Benei Yisrael’s capabilities through Bilam’s curse.
This observation was made by Seforno (22:6), who explains that Bilam only had the power to curse, and not the power to bless. Balak had no choice, according to Seforno, but to try placing a curse on Benei Yisrael, because Bilam was able only to place curses. Seforno’s explanation gives us insight into the character of Bilam, whose skill lay in his hostility, in putting people down, and was incapable of empowering people and helping them become greater.
Additionally, however, Balak’s reaction to the situation perhaps points to the all-too-common tendency to react to challenges only by seeking to eliminate them, without trying to overcome them. Balak faced what he perceived to be a difficult and frightening challenge, and he responded by endeavoring to take down the obstacle, rather than working to surmount it. If we are always in the habit of trying to avoid challenges, we will never develop the skills needed to overcome challenges. We end up accustoming ourselves to escape from challenging situations, instead of accustoming ourselves to grow and struggle to achieve even in the face of difficulty. We should not be trying only to “curse” that which we find difficult; we should be trying also to confront hardship, to accept challenges as opportunities for growth and achievement, and to equip ourselves with the skills and strength we need to overcome and gain from adversity.