The importance of studying the Torah in its original language

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

There is another problem. If God 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 ET. 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. ET only implies joining with someone in an activity but nothing more.

When this word is 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 God gets angry.

At first, God told Balaam not to go IMAHEM (verse 12, with them – the emissaries). This means that God 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, God 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 God was angry with him.

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