This Week’s Torah Portion: Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9)
Horses were cherished in Biblical society, but not so the donkey. At best the “aton”, or she-ass, was a steady beast of burden. The word “aton” appears 34 times in the Hebrew Bible, 14 of which occur within the context of our Parashah, Balak. The 20 other references are considerably less positive. Donkeys were commonly portrayed in ancient literature as foolish, stubborn, wicked or servile at best, and generally represented the lowest classes of society.
Here in our Torah portion the famous seer Bilaam cannot see the angel which God has placed in his path, but his donkey can. There are three confrontations with the invisible messenger of the Lord, each one increasingly difficult to ignore. Even a dumb animal can see that Bilaam is acting against God’s plan, even though the great “seer” cannot. The question for our Torah portion is, can this great seer raise himself to the level of a she-ass and see what is right and what God requires of him? The question for us to answer is – can we?
Balak, the king of Moab, persuades the prophet Balaam to curse the Israelites so that he can defeat them and drive them out of the region. However, Balaam blesses the Children of Israel instead and prophesies that Israel’s enemies will be defeated. (22:2-24:25)
God punishes the Israelites with a plague for consorting with the Moabite women and their god. The plague is stayed after Pinchas kills an Israelite man and his Midianite woman. (25:1-9)