The Men With Two Faces

Chapter 29

Welcome to this 29th week of 2023

The story of Edward Mordrake is a cautionary tale about the dangers of being two-faced. Mordrake was born with a second face on the back of his head, lived in the 19th century in 1896, and this second face was said to be evil. It would smirk and sneer while Mordrake was weeping, and it would whisper to him in the night. Mordrake was so tormented by the second face that he eventually begged doctors to remove it. However, the doctors refused, saying that it would be too dangerous.

In the Bible, there is also a story about a man with two faces. In the book of Numbers, we read about Balaam, a prophet who was hired by Balak, the king of Moab, to curse the Israelites. However, God intervened and prevented Balaam from cursing the Israelites. Instead, Balaam spoke a prophecy in which he said that the Israelites would be a “two-faced people.”

A Miraculous Oracle

Having been humiliated by his donkey and pushed around by God, Balaam arrived in Moab’s capital city and was greeted by Balak. Balak brought Balaam to Bamot Ba’al, a place of idol worship that overlooked the entire Jewish camp. Balaam commanded Balak to prepare seven altars for him and to offer a bull and the angel told him to go a ram on each one. Balaam had specifically seven prepared, in an attempt to counteract the seven altars the Jewish forefathers had built. Balaam took leave of Balak, and God appeared to him, “placing words in his mouth.” Balaam returned to Balak, raised his voice and began to speak.

Balak the king of Moab has brought me from Aram, from the mountains of the east saying, “Come, curse Jacob for me and come invoke wrath against Israel.” How can I curse whom God has not cursed, and how can I invoke wrath if the Lord has not been angered?

Praise instead of curses

Instead of curses, the most wonderful blessings and praise issued forth. Balak took Balaam to two other places in the hope that Balaam would have more luck cursing. All the places were specific in that Balak divined that the Jews would sin in those places, so he hoped to be successful in cursing them from there. But each time Balaam opened his mouth, nothing but the greatest praise for the Jews flowed forth. Noticing the way the Jews’ tents were positioned, indicating their overall modesty, Balaam declared, “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!”

After Balaam blessed the Jews for the third time, Balak grew angry and told Balaam to leave. As he was leaving, Balaam turned to Balak and prophesied what would to happen to his people in the end of days and about the Messianic redemption.

I see it, but not now; I behold it, but not soon. A star has gone forth from Jacob, and a staff will arise from Israel which will crush the princes of Moab and uproot all the sons of Seth. Edom shall be possessed, and Seir shall become the possession of his enemies, and Israel shall triumph.

Chassidic teachings explain why these great blessing came through such a wicked man. Balaam blessing the Jews was a preparation for Moshiach, when every single creation will acknowledge its Maker. This process began when Balaam, the greatest Jew-hater, recognized this truth and blessed God and the Jews.

Balaam was hired to curse, but God prevented him from doing so. Instead, Balaam spoke four blessings over the Israelites. These blessings are still recited in Jewish prayers today. The story of Balaam teaches us that we should always obey God, even when it is difficult.

The prayer begins with Numbers 24:5, where Balaam, sent to curse the Israelites, is instead overcome with awe at God and the Israelites’ houses of worship. Its first line of praise is a quote of Balaam’s blessing and is thus the only prayer commonly used in Jewish services that was written by a non-Jew

Ma Tovu
How lovely are your tents, O Jacob; your encampments, O Israel!
As for me, through Your abundant grace,
I enter your house to worship with awe in Your sacred place.
O Lord, I love the House where you dwell, and the place where your glory tabernacles.
I shall prostrate myself and bow; I shall kneel before the Lord my Maker.
To You, Eternal One, goes my prayer: may this be a time of your favor.
In Your abundant love, O God, answer me with the Truth of Your salvation.

Both Balaam and Edward Mordrake were known for their two faces. However, the two faces had different meanings for each man. For Balaam, the second face represented his inner conflict. He was a prophet who was called to bless the Israelites, but he was also tempted to curse them. The second face represented his struggle between good and evil.

For Edward Mordrake, the second face represented his torment. He was said to be able to hear the voice of the second face, and the voice was said to be evil. The second face represented his illness. No voice was audible, but Mordake avers that he was kept from his rest at night by the hateful whispers of his “devil twin”, as he called it, “which never sleeps, but talks to me forever of such things as they only speak of in Hell. No imagination can conceive the dreadful temptations it sets before me.

They teach us that we should be careful not to be deceived by appearances. We should not judge people based on their outward appearance, because we may not know what is going on inside.

Wishing you a good start to this new week!
Philemon

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