Seeing With a Blinded Eye

Translated and annotated from Sefer Baal Shem Tov by Rabbi Eliezer Shore
(first posted on KabbalaOnline.org)


"He took up his parable, and said: This is the word of Balaam the son of Be'or, and the saying of the man with the blinded eye." (Num. 24:3)

"This is the saying of the man who sees well." (Onkelos)

I heard in the name of the Baal Shem Tov the intention of Onkelos here. The Midrash asks why G·d chose to rest His Presence on such a wicked gentile as Balaam? And it answers, so that the gentile nations will not have any allegation [against G·d] saying, "Had you given us prophets, we too would have improved our ways."1

It is known, though, that the attainment of prophecy requires very great holiness. Now, a person has five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. These correspond to five spiritual senses, as it is written: "My heart has seen much wisdom", (Ecclesiastes 1:17) "You have given to Your servant a listening heart", (I Kings 3:9) "And he shall smell with the fear of G·d". (Isaiah 11:3)

And likewise with the other senses. (See Midrash Raba, Eccl. 1:36) When a person purifies and sanctifies his external [physical] sense, holiness rests upon his spiritual ones, and the spirit of prophecy descends upon him.

But the wicked Balaam was the opposite of this. He defiled all of his physical senses, as our Rabbis said, that he practiced bestiality with his donkey. (Sanhedrin 105a) In addition, he was a necromancer, a diviner, a sorcerer, and a soothsayer. How was it possible for prophecy to have rested upon him? It was not possible! And yet, it was extremely necessary for him to become a prophet, so that the nations of the world could not have a claim [against G·d], "You rejected us!" But the matter was still very difficult, for there was no idea what could be done with him. What did G·d do? He blinded him in one of his eyes, and because he could not sin with that eye, holiness and prophecy rested upon it.

The Targum reveals this to us by translating "blinded eye" as "who sees well." That is, because he was blind in one of his eyes, he was able to see well with prophetic vision. But had he not been blind in that eye, there would not have been any way for prophecy to rest upon him.


Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov ["Israel, Master of the Good Name (of G-d)," 1698-1760], a unique and seminal figure in Jewish history, revealed the Chassidic movement and his own identity as an exceptionally holy person, on his 36th birthday, 18 Elul 1734. He passed away on the festival of Shavuot in 1760. He wrote no books, although many claim to contain his teachings. (Also referred to as "the BeShT", from an acronym of Baal Shem Tov.)


Rabbi Eliezer Shore studied in yeshivot in New York and Israel for many years,and received rabbinic ordination. He currently lives in Jerusalem, where he is a writer, storyteller, and Torah teacher.


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