The Gemara relates that Menasheh challenged Yeshayah ha'Navi with apparent contradictions between what is written in the Torah and what Yeshayah said. One of those contradictions was that the Torah states, "No person can see Me and live" (Shemos 33:20), but Yeshayah said that he saw a vision of Hash-m.
The Gemara answers that Yeshayah saw Hash-m through "an unclear Ispaklarya." He thought he saw a vision of Hash-m, but he really did not. The MAHARATZ CHAYOS quotes the SEFER HA'AKEIDAH who explains the verses in Yeshayah based on this Gemara.
The verse (Yeshayah 6:5) states, "And I said: Woe is me that I am going to be Nidmeisi!" RASHI and other Rishonim explain that upon witnessing the vision of Hash-m, Yeshayah exclaimed that he was destined to be eternally silenced because he saw such a vision. Rashi understands that "Nidmeisi" means "silenced," or put to death.
The Sefer ha'Akeidah explains that "Nidmeisi" does not mean, "I am going to die," but, "I have been imagining." Yeshayah meant that before he had that vision, he thought his prophecies were accurate. Once he experienced the vision of Hash-m, however, he realized that he must have been imagining the accuracy of his prophecies, because it is not possible to see an accurate vision of Hash-m. If his present vision was not real, then all of his past prophecies must also have involved his imagination ("Nidmeisi"). That is why Yeshayah exclaimed, "Woe is me, for I have been imagining," and he bemoaned the reason for his inability to accurate perceive the message of Hash-m: "because I am a man of impure lips and I live among a nation with impure lips."
The Gemara relates that Menasheh challenged Yeshayah ha'Navi with apparent contradictions between what is written in the Torah and what Yeshayah said. One of those contradictions was that the Torah states, "No person can see Me and live" (Shemos 33:20), but Yeshayah said that he saw a vision of Hash-m.
The Gemara answers that Yeshayah saw Hash-m through "an unclear Ispaklarya." He thought he saw a vision of Hash-m, but he really did not. Moshe Rabeinu, however, saw Hash-m through an "Ispaklarya ha'Me'irah" -- he perceived the Divine essence with intense clarity.
The Gemara here sheds light on a cryptic statement of the Gemara in Bava Basra (14b). The Gemara there states that "Moshe transcribed 'his Torah' (the Chumash) and the Parshah of Bil'am." Why does the Gemara separate the Parshah of Bil'am from the rest of the Torah? If Moshe Rabeinu transcribed the entire Chumash, he obviously transcribed the Parshah of Bil'am as well.
Another cryptic statement appears in the Midrash which discusses the extraordinary level of prophecy Bil'am attained. The Midrash quotes the verse, "In the nation of Yisrael, there never arose another prophet like Moshe" (Devarim 34:10), and it comments, "'In the nation of Israel' there never arose [a prophet like Moshe], but among the other nations there did arise [such a prophet] -- Bil'am" (Sifri, end of Devarim; see also Bamidbar Rabah 14:34).
How can the Midrash suggest that Bil'am, the embodiment of evil character traits (Avos 5:19), prophesied at the same level as Moshe Rabeinu, the greatest of Tzadikim? The continuation of the Midrash is even more perplexing, as it says that in certain ways Bil'am's revelation was greater than that of Moshe Rabeinu! (See Midrash ha'Zohar Shemos 22b and Bamidbar 193b; Ba'al ha'Turim to Shemos 18:19.)
HA'GA'ON RAV YEHOSHUA LEIB DISKIN (in Teshuvos Maharil Diskin, end of "Kesavim") presents a particularly interesting approach to both this question and the first. He asks that after Hash-m explicitly told Bil'am, "Do not curse the nation, for they are a blessed nation" (Bamidbar 22:12), Bil'am carried on with his mission to curse the Jewish people. If Hash-m told Bil'am not to curse the nation, what did he think he could accomplish (see Rashi to Bamidbar 22:20)? Rav Diskin answers by elucidating a concept necessary for understanding prophetic revelation, based on the Gemara here.
The Gemara says that Yeshayah saw Hash-m through "an unclear Ispaklarya," and Moshe Rabeinu saw Hash-m through a "clear Ispaklarya." In what way is a prophet's vision said to be unclear or clouded? Why would Hash-m's message not be clearly revealed to a prophet? Rav Diskin explains that when Hash-m delivers a prophetic message it must first "materialize" into a worldly vision, one which is within the grasp of the prophet. The prophet must then work at understanding the meaning of the vision. Ultimately, the accuracy of his interpretation depends on how closely he grasps the ways of the Creator, or how much he has subordinated himself to the Divine Will. The barrier of physicality which stands between the prophet and Hash-m "clouds" the prophet's vision.
Does this mean that a prophet can "misread" his vision? If such a misreading is possible, how can the people ever rely on a prophet's prophecy? Rav Diskin answers that even when a prophet does not fully grasp all of the fine details of the prophecy and interprets part of it imperfectly, the prophecy still will materialize based on his interpretation. Once he is appointed to be a prophet of Hash-m, he is entrusted with "prophetic license" to interpret the Divine communications that reach him as he sees fit, and Hash-m will follow through based on the prophet's interpretation. The concept of a Divine message being subject to human explication is not, after all, a particularly novel concept. With regard to a meaningful dream (which the Gemara calls "a minor prophecy," Berachos 57b), the Gemara teaches that "dreams are fulfilled according to the interpretation that is suggested for them" (Berachos 55b; this concept has parallels in the authority granted by the Torah to the Chachamim to interpret the Torah based on the thirteen principles of Halachic derivation).
Nevertheless, since some human intervention is involved, there remains a certain degree of "distortion" in a prophetic message. The Gemara in Yoma (73b) teaches, "A prophet's word may be recalled, but the word of the Urim v'Tumim is never recalled." Divine messages transferred via the Urim v'Tumim come directly from Hash-m. Since there is no human intervention involved in their delivery, they represent the absolute truth of Hash-m. The word of a prophet lacks that element (especially when the prophet cautions others to repent in the face of impending disaster, as in the case of the prophet Yonah), and therefore it may be recalled.
Moshe Rabeinu differed from all other prophets. He obtained the loftiest spiritual level that man can attain. He totally subordinated his will to that of Hash-m (Bamidbar 12:3). His grasp of the Divine Will therefore was total; his visions were seen through a "clear Ispaklarya."
Naturally, one would expect that the ability to prophesy granted to Bil'am was through an "unclear Ispaklarya," like the ability granted to most prophets. However, had Bil'am prophesied through an "unclear Ispaklarya," his prophecy would have had grave consequences. Bil'am, with his terribly unrefined character (Avos 5:19), certainly would have "seen" in his vision a perverted view of Hash-m's message. There was considerable risk that he would interpret his vision as a sign of calamity for Yisrael instead of a sign of their redemption! Since prophecy is fulfilled according to the interpretation of the prophet, such an interpretation could have had dire results.
This approach explains why Bil'am attempted to curse the Jews after Hash-m explicitly told him not to curse them. Bil'am thought that it would not be necessary for him to curse them; he was confident that he could "use" his gift of prophecy to foretell evil for them by interpreting any vision that Hash-m would send him in accordance with his own clouded perspective.
In order to prevent Bil'am from abusing his powers of prophecy in this way, Hash-m made an exception to the ordinary manner in which He grants prophecy. Bil'am was shown a perfectly clear and pure vision -- he was granted the privilege to see the unadulterated word of Hash-m. "What Hash-m puts in my mouth, I shall speak" (Bamidbar 22:38). There was nothing for him to misinterpret. His word was like that of the Urim v'Tumim. In this manner, his prophecy was like that of Moshe Rabeinu.
This approach answers the second question as well. The Sifri does not mean that Bil'am reached a level of prophecy as lofty as that of Moshe Rabeinu. Rather, it means that there was one particular aspect of prophecy which no prophet other than Bil'am shared with Moshe Rabeinu. Bil'am's vision was as clear and unfiltered as Moshe Rabeinu's. (This also appears to be the approach of Rabeinu Bachye to Bamidbar 24:4.)
The reason why the Chachamim distinguish between the Parshah of Bil'am and the rest of the Torah is now clear. The Torah is referred to as "Moshe's Torah" (Malachi 3:22) even though it includes narratives with which the nation was familiar before Moshe Rabeinu transcribed them, and even though it includes prophecies of other prophets such as the forefathers. It is called "Moshe's Torah" ("Toras Moshe") because when Moshe Rabeinu transcribed the Torah, he wrote every word as he heard it directly from Hash-m. The prophecies of the forefathers -- which were perceived originally through an "unclear Ispaklarya" -- were now related to Moshe Rabeinu from Hash-m through a "clear Ispaklarya." Moshe Rabeinu transcribed the prophecies of the forefathers as they were transmitted through a clear and unfiltered communication. Therefore, it is fitting to refer to the Torah as "Moshe's Torah."
There is one exception. Bil'am's prophetic visions were already received in their purest form. There was nothing for Moshe Rabeinu to add to them since they had already been received through a "clear Ispaklarya." Hence, the Gemara states that Moshe Rabeinu recorded "his Torah" -- the communications from Hash-m which Moshe Rabeinu received with his unclouded perception, and "the Parshah of Bil'am" -- Bil'am's prophecy which had already been communicated and needed only to be recorded. (A similar approach is attributed to Rav Chaim Soloveitchik; see, for example, Ma'atikei Shemu'ah, volume 2, p. 81.)