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		                                    Thinking Torah Blog		                                </span>

06/29/2023 05:00:09 PM


Rabbi Chelsea Feuchs

The story of Balak and Balaam is one of the better-known narratives in the Book of Numbers. After all, the names of the two main characters are fun both to say and to mix up! In addition, Balaam blesses us with the opening line of a favorite prayer, Mah Tovu. But as much as we may love to sing those words, ask any kiddo who knows about this week’s parashah and they will tell you the real reason for its fame: the talking donkey!

That’s right! The prophet Balaam saddles his donkey to go and answer King Balak’s summons, but a messenger of God keeps getting in his path. The donkey swerves to avoid hitting the messenger, but Balaam’s prophetic vision is far from 20-20, so he cannot see the obstacle right in front of him. Incensed, Balaam beats the donkey until she finally turns to him and says, “What have I done to you that you would hit me?” Rather than fall back in utter amazement, Balaam angrily replies, “You have made a mockery of me! If I had a sword with me, I’d kill you.”

Now it is our turn as readers to be astonished! We have already seen a sea parted, a staff turned into a snake, and manna falling from the skies, so we are not new to the Torah defying the laws of nature. But to see someone totally unmoved by a miracle is stunning. As other-worldly as this story may seem, I believe there are direct parallels to our lives today, times when we are like Balaam, unable to notice the miracles right in front of us. How often have we failed to appreciate the new blossoms on a fruit tree, the ability to call up a loved one living far away, or the gift of opening our eyes or drawing that first breath in the morning? Sometimes it is anger that gets in our way, other times it’s business or distraction. Our sages say in Pirkei Avot 5:6 that the talking donkey was created on the eve of Shabbat at twilight; perhaps we need the sun to set and our day of rest to begin so that we can recognize the miracles all around us. 

Sat, July 13 2024 7 Tammuz 5784