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23/24 July: Parshat Balak

rabbipaulsmlShabbat comes in 8.49 pm: goes out 10.01 pm 

If you were giving a dvar, how would you deal with the following story in parshat Balak?  In the fortieth year of their wilderness journey towards the Promised Land, the Israelites arrive at the borders of Moab, located on the eastern side of the Dead Sea.  The King of Moab, Balak, is concerned that the Israelites intend to wage battle.  So King Balak calls for the help of the prophet Bilam.

If Bilam the prophet were to curse the Israelites, King Balak thinks, the Moabites would then be able to defeat the Israelites in battle and expel them from Moabite territory.

After King Balak finds out that Bilam the prophet refuses to curse the Israelites, Balak sends a prominent delegation to convince him.  Bilam saddles his donkey to set out to curse the Israelites but God is angered and sends an angel to attempt to dissuade Bilam from continuing.  Bilam’s donkey sees the angel and veers aside.  Bilam, who does not see the angel, beats his donkey.

This happens three times until the donkey speaks and rebukes Bilam.  At that point, the angel becomes visible to Bilam and says, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times?  It is I who came out as an adversary, for the errand is obnoxious to me.  And when the donkey saw me, she shied away because of me those three times” (Numbers 22:32-33).

What aspect of the story stands out for you?  The issue of animal rights?   God
protecting the Israelite nation?  The issue of false prophets?  The fact that
wisdom can come from unexpected places?  The strange existence of angels
in our tradition?   There is no one “right” way to discuss any story in the Torah.

Shabbat Shalom,Rabbi Paul Arberman

July 20, 2016