The Torah portion, or parasha, this week is Balak and is found in Numbers 22:2-25:9. In this passage, Balak, the king of Moab, sees that the Israelites have defeated the neighboring Amorites and he is afraid. He joins forces with the Midianites to hire the prophet Balaam, asking him to curse the Israelites to insure their defeat. God tells Balaam not to go, but he does anyway. Balaam sets out, riding on his donkey. An angel appears and blocks the road. Balaam doesn’t see it but his donkey does and refuses to move. Balaam beats the animal, but it still refuses to move. After three beatings, the donkey speaks and complains that it doesn’t deserve this treatment. God then allows Balaam to see the angel, who rebukes him for beating his donkey but permits him to continue on his journey with the warning that he may only say what God tells him. Balaam asks Balak to build seven altars and to provide animals for sacrifices. After he makes his offerings he speaks the words God gives him, praising and blessing Israel. Balak is furious, but Balaam explains that he can speak only as God commands him. Twice more Balaam offers sacrifices and then praises and blesses Israel. Balak sends Balaam away; he leaves after describing the defeat of several other nations.
This passage tells an interesting story with an interesting message. While the Israelites are in the wilderness traveling toward the Promised Land, a Moabite king wants to have them cursed so that his country is secure. He calls in a prophet who is known for his sorcery and asks him to curse the people. Balaam must have felt a little concerned about the proposition because he turns down the proposition the first time and on his journey, he is painfully reminded from his donkey that he is only to speak the words God allows. When he makes his offerings, only blessings come forth, which clearly does not please Balak. Balak ends up sending Balaam away, without achieving what he wanted. We learn three things from the passage: First, if someone proposes something to us that we do not feel comfortable with and goes against principles we believe are sacred, then we are better off not to do it. Second, God speaks to everyone in simple and often unexpected ways. It may not be a talking donkey, but it pays to listen to good advice, even from unlikely sources. Third, the Israelites in the story are hardly mentioned and they seem completely unaware that they are being protected by God in this situation. We don’t always see evidence of God working in our lives…but that doesn’t mean God is not there.