In preparing a parshah shiur for this week, I started to develop a concept that I won’t end up using. It’s interesting, but I don’t think it’s substantive yer; it’s more homiletic than real. I’m sharing it here, though, because a reader might be able to take it further.
The core idea:
Recall that Ibn Ezra believes that the Torah tells us the origins of nations in order to teach us about their descendants’ inherited natures. [See, for example, his comment to Bereishis 9:18.]
Avraham’s cousin Lot, of Sdom, is the patriarch of Moav, the nation which hires Bilam to curse the Jews in the wilderness. There are several parallels between the story of Lot/Sdom, and Bilam/Moav’s attempt to curse the Jews. Perhaps these parallels are the Torah’s attempt to teach us certain moral lessons, based on the character and identity of the nation of Lot/Sdom/Moav.
Here are the parallels I have noticed:
1) Selfish concern for their own resources
Sdom is not aggressively evil; they are only wicked to visitors, selfishly wishing to keep their resources for themselves. [See also Avot 5:10 on שלי שלי.]
Moav is likewise concerned for their resources. They are not concerned that the Jews will come to fight against them; rather, as one reads Bamidbar 22 it is evident that Moav is worried about the Jews moving to the neighborhood and consuming all of their grassland.
Angels are sent to destroy Sdom
Angels are sent to keep Bilam/Moav from succeeding against the Jews
3) Reluctance to do as Gd instructs
Lot is reluctant to leave Sdom, even when instructed by angels to do so.
Bilam is reluctant to abandon his plan to curse the Jews, even when instructed by angels to do so.
4) Involvement with sexual immorality
Lot is accused of knowingly sleeping with his daughters, or at least the second one. See Nazir 23a, which suggests he planned this.
Bilam is accused of sleeping with his donkey, per Sanhedrin 105a.
5) An unsuccessful attempt to direct people in a proper path
Lot attempts to convince the people of Sdom to leave his visitors in peace.
Bilam attempts to convince the Moabite emissaries to abandon their plan of cursing the Jews.
There also may be something in Lot telling his visitors to stay for the night, and Bilam telling his visitors to stay for the night.
I also found an interesting contrast between Avraham on one side, and Bilam on the other:
Gd tells Avraham that He will destroy Sdom, and he prays to Gd to change His mind and save these strangers.
Gd tells Bilam not to harm the Jews, and he prays to Gd to change His mind and harm these strangers.
Interesting, but could just be the common pre-shiur desperation to find a pattern. Not enough for me to feel this is quite real, yet, but interesting.