Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The Kerygma of Bilam

Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik, zecher tzadik l’vrakha, in the Lonely Man of Faith, distinguishes between what he called numinous and kerygmatic man.  Though unfamiliar Latin and Greek terms, once fleshed out they are really quite powerful categories.
Kerygmatic man is the man who possesses a kerygma, literally, a message.  He is a man of mastery and accomplishment.  He is respected for his talents and the contributions he makes to society.  He might be a scholar, a warrior, a physician, a lawyer, even a rabbi.
Numinous man, like his Maker resides in solitude.  His being is mysterious.  He is unknowable.  His inner life is rich and full of meaning.  But his inner world is wholly incommunicable. 
There is a beautiful midrash that compares Moshe and Bilam:
“There shall never rise up in Israel and prophet like Moshe”—in Israel, there shall never rise up, but in the nations of the world there shall: Bilam son of Be’or.  But there is a difference between the prophecy of Moshe and Bilam: Moshe never knew who was speaking to him—Bilam knew, as it says, “so says the hearer of the words of G-d”; Moshe never knew when G-d would speak to him—Bilam always knew, as it says, “the one who knows the mind of the Lofty One”; Moshe only spoke with G-d while standing, as it says, “you, here, stand with me”—Bilam would speak with him while fallen, as it says, “who sees the vision of Shadai, fallen with open eyes.”  To whom may he [Bilam] be compared: to the chef of the king who know how much the king spends on his meals. (Yalkut Shimoni, §966)
At first it sounds like Bilam is greater—he knew Who was speaking to him and he knew when He would speak to him.  On the other hand, G-d would speak to Moshe while he was awake and Bilam only when he was asleep (I assume that is what is meant by fallen).  Here is my interpretation, for what it’s worth.  Unlike Bilam, Moshe did not claim mastery over G-d—he did not know when or even Who was speaking to him.  Moshe prophesied during the day—prophecy was part of his very being.  Bilam, on the other hand, only while sleeping—only when he was removed from his kerygmatic self, in sleep, when room was made for his numinous self, could he experience the prophetic spirit.

1 comment:

Kol ha'Seridim said...

Interesting and thought-provoking interpretation of this midrash in light of the Rav's distinction! I shall have to ponder this ...