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Torah Sparks

BALAK
July 7, 2001 - 5761

Prepared by Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg
Temple Sinai, Hollywood, FL

Edited by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Num. 22:2-25:9; Hertz Chumash, p. 669
Triennial Cycle III: Num. 23:27-25:9; Hertz Chumash, p. 677
Haftarah: Micah 5:6-6:8; Hertz Chumash, p. 682

(22:2-20) Balak, King of Moab, invites Balaam, who has the power to bless and curse, to help him by cursing the Israelites. Balaam says he must consult with God before he can decide; eventually God tells him that he may go, "but whatever I command you, that you shall do."

(22:21-38) Balaam sets out riding his donkey. On the way, an angel of the Lord appears. He does not see it, but his donkey does, and refuses to move. After being beaten three times, the donkey speaks and complains of this ill treatment. God then opens Balaam's eyes so that he sees the angels, who also rebukes Balaam for beating the donkey. Balaam offers to turn back; the angel tells him to go, but warns him again only to say what God tells him.

(22:39-23:26) Balaam arrives in Moab and is received by Balak with great honor. But to Balak's distress, Balaam, compelled by God, twice blesses and praises the Israelites, and predicts great things for their future.

(22:2-20) Balak, King of Moab, invites Balaam, who has the power to bless and curse, to help him by cursing the Israelites. Balaam says he must consult with God before he can decide; eventually God tells him that he may go, "but whatever I command you, that you shall do."

(22:21-38) Balaam sets out riding his donkey. On the way, an angel of the Lord appears. He does not see it, but his donkey does, and refuses to move. After being beaten three times, the donkey speaks and complains of this ill treatment. God then opens Balaam's eyes so that he sees the angels, who also rebukes Balaam for beating the donkey. Balaam offers to turn back; the angel tells him to go, but warns him again only to say what God tells him.

(22:39-23:26) Balaam arrives in Moab and is received by Balak with great honor. But to Balak's distress, Balaam, compelled by God, twice blesses and praises the Israelites, and predicts great things for their future.

(23:27-24:9) Balaam makes a third attempt. In this blessing, he says the famous words of the Mah Tovu: "How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel!" He concludes, "Blessed are they who bless you, accursed those who curse you!"

(24:10-25) Balak, totally infuriated, tells Balaam that he won't pay him, and discharges him. Balaam reminds him that he said all along that he could only say what God told him to say, and throws in a fourth blessing, unsolicited, predicting Israel's conquest of Moab. Balaam goes on to make predictions concerning other nations.

(25:1-9) The incident at Ba'al Pe'or, where Moabite women entice Israelite men into sexual promiscuity and idolatry. Pinchas, Aaron's grandson, sees on Israelite man brazenly bring a Midianite woman to his tent in front of the whole community. He kills them both, averting a plague.

Theme 1: Curses... Foiled Again!

Then Balak said to Bilaam, "What have you done to me? Here I brought you to damn my enemies, and instead you have blessed them!" (Numbers 24:11)

  1. The main topic of this week's parashah is Bilaam's attempt to curse the People of Israel. Three times he attempted to curse the Children of Israel and three times he failed. Each time his curse turned into a blessing. The obvious question is: Why? ... (The Midrash, Devarim Rabbah, claims that) Bilaam really wanted to curse the People of Israel, but G-d intervened and turned his curse into a blessing... In a number of other midrashim, we find a different scenario. According to those sources, Bilaam did indeed intend to curse the Israelites, but when he saw their exemplary behavior, he changed his mind and blessed them instead.... According to these midrashim, Bilaam did not turn his curses into blessing because of some miraculous intervention by G-d. But rather because he was so favorably impressed by the behavior of the Jewish people... The message hidden in these midrashim is that the Jewish People, for that matter, people in general, have the ability to turn curses into blessings. They can, through their actions, snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and turn adversity into triumph. (David Golinkin: Iyunei Shabbat - Balak; July 16, 1997 - published on the Internet)
  2. This week's parashah is named afer Balak but the central figure is the prophet Bilaam. Indeed the main section is known as "Parashat Bilaam". This section figures prominently in a most surprising passage in the Talmud: "Said Abbahu ben Zutrati, in the name of Rabbi Judah bar Zeveida; They wished to include Parashat Balak in the recitation of the Shema (Keriat Shema). Why did they not include it? They did not want to burden the public"... Perhaps the Rabbis raised the possibility that the recitation of the Shema should include a verse, or verses, from Bilaam in order that the recitation would point to a moral and spiritual dimension. The idea was that verse(s) from Bilaam would raise the issue of changing curses into blessings. That a person praying would also focus on keeping G-d's commands to be merciful and responsible for others in mind even in a fit of anger or rage. That each person would feel the need for embarrassment if they had done wrong. Perhaps those who suggested this addition to Shema felt that theology, Mitzvot and history were not enough, but a spiritual and moral dim ension had to be a part of each recitation of Shema. (Michael Graetz; Pinat Masortit #255a Balak 5760 - published on the Internet July 17, 2000)

Discussion Sparks:

Are we always in control of what we say? In this regard, what can we say about "Freudian slips"? Have you ever spontaneously or suddenly changed your impression or opinion of someone? What do you think caused it to happen?


 
 
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