Make a Fixed Time for Study

עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

And Now, A Word from our Donkey

Posted by rabbiart on July 5, 2008

Ah, yes, Parshat Balaak. A talking donkey, a sword wielding angel, and a prophet of Beor who gives Israel a benediction that we sing even to this day.

Balak the son of Zippor, reading the news of his days, hears how Israel is marching through the surrounding areas with an efficiency far surpassing General Sherman’s march to Atlanta in the American Civil War. (Remember, there is no early or later in the Torah <grin>). In words reminiscent of Pharoah, he sees the Israelites as too many and too strong for him to fight off unaided.  Apparently, he doesn’t hear the part where Moshe promises to stay on the King’s highway and to make reimbursement for any food or drink consumed on the way.  In more words, this time reminiscent of HaShem’s pledge to Abraham, Balak asks Balaam to put a curse on Israel, because – he says – whoever Balaam blesses is blessed, and whoever Balaam curses is cursed.

וְעַתָּה לְכָה-נָּא אָרָה-לִּי אֶת-הָעָם הַזֶּה, כִּי-עָצוּם הוּא מִמֶּנִּי–אוּלַי אוּכַל נַכֶּה-בּוֹ, וַאֲגָרְשֶׁנּוּ מִן-הָאָרֶץ:  כִּי יָדַעְתִּי, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-תְּבָרֵךְ מְבֹרָךְ, וַאֲשֶׁר תָּאֹר, יוּאָר.

Come now therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people; for they are too mighty for me; peradventure I shall prevail, that we may smite them, and that I may drive them out of the land; for I know that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed.’ (BaMidbar 22:6)

As the story unfolds, Balaam finds that he is unable to say anything save for what HaShem puts in his mouth.  In Chapter 23 he speaks a “parable” that rings true even to this day.

כִּי-מֵרֹאשׁ צֻרִים אֶרְאֶנּוּ, וּמִגְּבָעוֹת אֲשׁוּרֶנּוּ:  הֶן-עָם לְבָדָד יִשְׁכֹּן, וּבַגּוֹיִם לֹא יִתְחַשָּׁב

For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, it is a people that shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.

Throughout history Jews, whether as a nation or a diaspora-wandering people, have essentially dwelt alone, and not been accepted into the family of nations.  Or as Bill Murray put it in Stripes “our forefathers……were kicked out of every decent country in the world.”  But we have never measured ourselves by what others think of us, or how others have treated us.  Instead, wherever Jews have dwelled, we have built lives to be proud of, enriched the society in which we found ourselves, and studied the teachings of the Torah.

May we see the day when those who come to curse us, find themselves only to utter words of praise like Balaam of Beor.

מַה-טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ, יַעֲקֹב; מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ, יִשְׂרָאֵל

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