What had Balak seen that made him so afraid of Yisrael?
(22,2) “And Balak the son of Tzippor saw everything that Yisrael had done to the Amorites. And Moav was very afraid of the people, for they were numerous…And Moav said to the elders of Midian: Now this assembly will consume everything around us, as the ox consumes the vegetation of the field.”
The word “everything” seems to be superfluous since it should have been sufficient to just write “and Balak the son of Tzippor saw what Yisrael had done to the Amorites”. But we can explain the meaning as follows:
Even though Moav had seen what Yisrael had done to Sichon they should not have been afraid of them, because it was already well known that Hashem had commanded Yisrael “Do not distress the Moabites, and do not contend with them in war” (Devarim 2:9). But Moav had also seen that Yisrael had first sent a message of peace to Sichon, requesting that they be allowed to pass through their land, and that Sichon, not wanting to let them, went out to meet them for war and were destroyed. Moav concluded from what they had seen that Yisrael had not acted thusly because of love of peace, but rather that they had acted craftily to cover their true motives - they wished to show the world that they had not started up with Sichon, but rather Sichon had started up with them. Because although Hashem had commanded Yisrael not to contend with them in war, the intention was only that they should not start a war,, but if Moav initiates the war they are released from this command.
Therefore, Moav was afraid lest they do the same thing again, initially requesting that they be allowed just to pass through their land, and if they did so Moav would be lost either way. Because if he allows them to pass through they will cause great destruction in his land, and if he does not allow them he would be forced to go out to meet them for war with a large number of people, as Edom and Sichon had done, and Yisrael will thus say that Moav started the war and so they are released from Hashem’s prohibition not to make war with them.
This is what the posuk is saying: “And Balak saw everything that Yisrael had done to the Amorites” - he saw everything, including the fact that they had initially sent a message of peace. Therefore, “Moav was very afraid of the people, for they were numerous”, and if he would let such a numerous people pass through his land they would do a great deal of damage and “consume everything around us”.
To explain things further - although Chazal taught in Gittin 38a that Ammon and Moav was cleansed by Sichon, meaning that when Sichon conquered their territory it ceased forever to be subject to the rules about their land, Moav did not know this. He thought that even after their land was conquered by Sichon it retained its status as the land of Moav, as the king of the children of Moav similarly erred in the days of Yiftach (Shoftim 11). Therefore when he saw that Yisrael had made peaceful overtones to Sichon and requested permission to pass through their land, and Moav did not know that this was because of the great importance of peace, he asked himself that if Ammon and Moav were cleansed by Sichon, why did they need to make a peaceful request? He concluded that the land must have retained the status of Ammon even after Sichon had conquered them, and if so, their request proves that the warning not to contend with them was only that they should not start a war with Ammon and Moav, but if Ammon and Moav starts with them the prohibition does not apply.
All this resulted from his knowledge that Yisrael had initially offered peace, but if Moav had not known this he would not have been afraid, because he would have said that the warning not to contend with Moav applied even if Moav started with them. And the reason why they had taken land from Sichon was because Ammon had lost its status once they had been conquered by Sichon. Thus Moav would not have been afraid that Yisrael would destroy their land by passing through it, because if they attempted to do so he would oppose them and not allow them.
But because Balak had in fact seen everything that Yisrael had done including how they had first offered peace, he concluded that the land had not yet been cleansed by Sichon, and thus it was clear that if Moav started with them then Yisrael would be released from Hashem’s prohibition. Therefore he said “now this assembly will consume everything around us”, because they will destroy us either way - if we oppose them they will destroy us in war, and if we don’t oppose them then they will consume the land.
Another explanation of the flow of the posukim is that when Yisrael went out of Egypt fear of them fell upon all the nations, yet when Yisrael came to touch the portion of one of them, they opposed them with war. The reason was because they had not seen with their own eyes the great things that Hashem had done for them - they had only heard about it, and as Chazal teach, hearing is not like seeing. Therefore Edom went out to meet them, and Yisrael turned away from them. But, as the Alshich explained, “Balak saw” - he was present at the war with Sichon and had seen with his own eyes everything which Yisrael had done to them, and it caused such a fear to fall upon Balak that even if the children of Yisrael would come and make war with Moav, he would not be able to find the strength to oppose them.
Therefore it says that “Balak feared greatly” - if he had not seen with his own eyes he would not have been so afraid and would have opposed Yisrael as Edom had done, and maybe it would have helped to save Moav. But now that he had seen with his own eyes what they had done to Sichon he feared greatly, saying that they will consume everything and no one can oppose them.
Why should Midian help Moav?
(22,4) “And Moav said to the elders of Midian: Now this assembly will consume everything around us like the ox consumes the vegetation of the field. And Balak the son of Tzippor was the king of Moav at that time.”
It seems to me that the end of this posuk is part of what the elders of Moav said to the elders of Midian. Moav wanted Midian to come to help them to fight against Yisrael, but Midian asked why should they get involved in a fight which is not theirs, especially as there was great danger involved. Therefore Moav said to them that it was well known that Balak was one of the princes of Midian and that his real country was Midian, but at present he was the king of Moav. Therefore, you must do this for a king who is one of yours. Do this for his sake and come to help us.
Why did Balak need to tell Bilaam that Yisrael was stationed opposite him?
(22,5) “He sent messengers to Bilaam the son of Beor…saying: Behold, a people has come out of Egypt…and they are stationed opposite me. So now please come and curse this people for me…”
Chazal said that one who prays for his fellow man must mention his name, and if he does not do so his prayer will not be effective. But if he is in his presence he does not need to mention his name. This is why it says in the Yalkut Shimoni on parshas Chukas that the reason why Yisrael said 21:2 “if You will deliver this people into my hand”, was because they did not know the name of the people or what to call them. Therefore they said “this people”, the word ‘this’ implying that they pointed with their finger because they were present before them.
Now, Balak knew that the name Yisrael was very great and holy, and so if he called them by this name cursing them would not be effective. This is especially true since the name Yisrael includes G-d’s name, so how could a curse fall on this name? Therefore he did not mention their name and said only “behold a people went out from Egypt”, thinking that this way the curse would be effective. But according to what we said above, how could he curse them if he does not mention their name? Therefore, after he said “behold a people went out from Egypt”, he anticipated Bilaam’s question - if they have no name how can I curse them? - by adding “and they are stationed opposite me”, and so you can curse them in their presence by pointing with your finger.
To explain the matter further, he needed to give Bilaam a reason why he was trying to persuade him to come to him - because surely it was sufficient for Bilaam to curse them in his own place. Therefore he told him that if Yisrael had their own name so that it would be possible to call them by name, then I would not trouble you to come. But “I sent to you to call you” (posuk 37) to come to my place, because “a people has come out of Egypt” - without a name, so therefore it is impossible for you to curse them where you are. And so “please come and curse this people for me” here, because here it is possible to curse them without a name since they are stationed opposite me.
Why did Moshe’s failure to act against Zimri result in Moshe’s place of burial being concealed?
(25,7) “And Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aharon the Kohen saw, and he rose from amongst the congregation and he took a spear in his hand.”
It says in the Midrash that as a result of Moshe’s negligence in killing Zimri, “no one knows the place of his (Moshe’s) burial” (Devarim 34:6). This Midrash is a puzzle - how is this a measure for measure repayment for his misdeed?
It seems to me that we can explain it according to what the Abarbanel writes in parshas Vzos Haberachah, that the reason why the burial place of Moshe was concealed was out of concern that he would be made the object of idol worship after his death, like Baal Peor who was also a human. He adds that this alluded to in the posuk which says that he was buried “opposite Beis Peor”.
But first we need to understand why the Midrash says that Moshe deserved a punishment for his negligence in killing Zimri, because elsewhere the Midrash explains that the law was concealed from Moshe, so why was he fitting to be punished? But there is another Midrash which teaches that when Yisrael wanted to commit immoral acts with the daughters of Moav, the women did not accede to their wishes unless they first worshiped Peor. If so, presumably Zimri also worshiped Peor before he acted immorally with Cosbi.
Now, Hashem commanded Moshe to “kill each one his men”, and the Ramban explains that this means that the prince of every tribe had to kill the men from his tribe who had worshiped Peor. From this we see that Hashem commanded only that the common people should be killed by the prince, but if the prince himself had worshiped Peor no one from the rest of his tribe could kill him, because they would have been afraid to kill a prince. Thus, the job of killing a prince who sinned fell upon Moshe himself, because he was superior to a prince, and thus Zimri who was a prince should have immediately been killed by Moshe when he worshiped Peor. But Moshe neglected to do so and thus Zimri proceeded to commit an immoral act with Cosbi.
According to this, if Moshe had not been negligent and had killed Zimri immediately after he worshiped Peor, then even if Moshe’s burial place were to be known he would not have been made an object of idol worship. Because if he had always zealously punished those who sinned by idol worship when he was alive, how could people make him an idol after his death?
But now that Moshe had seen Zimri worship Peor, and he was the only one who could have punished him but did not do so, even though this was due to tardiness on his part, nevertheless, there was a concern that the wicked and the heathens would say that the reason why Moshe had not punished Zimri was because he had nothing against the idol worship of Peor, and that he himself was happy with it. Therefore there was a concern that they might make also Moshe into an idol after his death, and therefore it was necessary to conceal the place of his burial.
This then is the explanation of the Midrash, that because Moshe was negligent in killing Zimri therefore “no one knows the place of his burial”.
An even better explanation is that because Moshe was negligent in punishing idol worship, making him an idol after his death would have been a fitting punishment. Therefore it was necessary to conceal his burial place to save him from this. But if he had not been negligent he would not have been liable to be punished by being made an idol after his death, and so it would not have been necessary to conceal his burial place.