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Blessing and Curses in the World:Balak

Parshat Balak

Numbers 22:2 -25:9

This week’s portion features one of the few talking animals in the Bible: a talking donkey!  Balaam a divine interpreter and astrologer is sent for by the King of Moab to curse the Israelites who are on their way to the Promised Land.  After trying to get out of the task, God tells Balaam to go to the king.  On the way to Moab to an audience with King Balak the donkey sees an angel of God with a sword in his hand.  The donkey swerves into a field. Of course, Balaam cannot see the angel at this time and beats the donkey trying to turn her back onto the road.
The angel again appears to the donkey and presses against the wall squeezing the foot of her master, Balaam.  Again, Balaam beats the donkey.  And a third time the angel blocks the donkey’s way and the donkey simply lays down in the road.  Balaam is completely enraged and beats the donkey even more.

This is when the donkey wryly and sarcastically turns to her master, “What have I done to you that you have beaten me these three times?  Balaam says, “You have made a mockery of me” and he threatens to kill the donkey if he had a sword.  The donkey reminds Balaam that he has been a loyal servant and asks, “have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”   Balaam could only answer, “No”.
At this moment God revealed the angel with the sword to Balaam.   And the Angel confronts Balaam about his treatment of the donkey and says to the diviner “If she had not shied away from me, you are the one I should have killed, while sparing her.”


This is a tale within the larger tale of Balaam who is set to task by the Moabite king to curse the Israelites, but God turns his curses into blessings.  He is supposed to be a prophet but yet he can’t see what is holy, including this angel of God.

He is supposed to have power to see the divine in everything. And yet, Balaam can’t see the divine spirit in the animal that has served him for so long.


This story is a precursor to let us know that he is a false prophet.


But it is a story that teaches us so much more.  It teaches us to open our eyes.  We think we see clearly the road before us but we have to be sensitive and careful to see the divine working in the world, whether in the beast of burden or in ourselves.


The story teaches us that God works through us in the world. The way we treat one another and the way we treat even the lowly donkey must be done with godliness in mind.

So this week turn curses into blessings-and open your eyes to the divine in the world and yourself.


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