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Numbers 22:12 – Study Torah in Hebrew

15 Tammuz 5783 – 4 July 2023


There seems to be a contradiction between Numbers 22:12 where G-d tells Balaam not to go with the emissaries of Balak and verse 20 where G-d says to get up and go with them.

There is another problem. If G-d told Balaam to go in verse 20, why does He get angry in verse 22 when he went with (v.21) these men?

The Gaon of Vilna beautifully explained that these issues hinge on two different Hebrew words for ‘with’ – IM and IT. IM means the joining with another not just physically, but in terms of intention, goals and motivation. It is being of one mind when going with another. IT only implies joining with someone in an activity but nothing more.

When these words are conjugated, IMAHEM means ‘with them in mind and action’ whereas ITAM just means ‘with them in action alone’.

Here is a summary of the critical words:

v.12 Don’t go IMAHEM

v.20 Go ITAM

v.21 He goes IM the emissaries

v.22 G-d gets angry

At first, G-d told Balaam not to go IMAHEM (verse 12, with them – the emissaries). This means that G-d was only opposed to him going with them and being of the same mindset – which was with the intention of cursing Israel. When Balaam pressed his case for going, G-d said he could go ITAM (verse 20 – just travelling with them), but he could not go IMAHEM.

However, verse 21 says that Balaam went IM (totally with) the emissaries of Balak, and this is why verse 22 tells us that G-d was angry with him.

By Rabbi Michael Skobac

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