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Weekly Drash - Balak

Compliments of First Fruits of Zion
reprinted by permission of FFOZ

Parashat Hashavuah

Balak - בלק
Torah : Numbers 22:2–25:9
Haftarah : Micah 5:6-6:8
Gospel : John 13-14


Never Argue with a Donkey


Thought for the Week:

Through the mouth of Balaam, the LORD explained to King Balak why Israel cannot be cursed: God has already promised to bless them. God is not fickle. Having already promised to bless Israel, He cannot reverse Himself. He cannot change His mind. Unlike human beings, God’s integrity is absolute. Therefore, the attempt to place a curse upon Israel is utterly futile.



Balaam the wicked prophet set out on his donkey to curse Israel. The Angel of LORD blocked Balaam’s path three times. Each time, Balaam did not see the angel, but the donkey did. The three incidents are meant to correspond to Balaam’s three attempts to curse Israel. Each time the LORD stood in his way, so to speak, and changed his curse into a blessing.

Balaam referred to himself as “the man whose eye is opened” (Numbers 24:4) and as the man “who sees the vision of the Almighty…having his eyes uncovered.” (Numbers 24:15–16) He is full of himself. He is the model of spiritual pride. He speaks of himself as the man who sees with eyes uncovered, but his donkey disagrees with his self-assessment. The donkey had more spiritual insight than Balaam.

The Angel of the LORD blocked the way three times, but Balaam did not see Him. On the third occasion, Balaam assaulted his donkey with a stick. When the donkey rebuked him, Balaam said, “If there had been a sword in my hand, I would have killed you by now.”

The Sages noticed the absolute irony of such a statement from a man who allegedly could defeat an entire nation simply by the power of his words. Balaam intended on smiting all Israel with the power of his speech, but he needed to beat his donkey with a stick and wished for a sword to kill her.

This villain was going to curse an entire nation which had not sinned against him [merely by the power of his speech], yet he has to smite his donkey [with his hand] to prevent it from going into a field! …the donkey spoke to Balaam saying, “You need a sword in your hand to kill me? How then do you intend to uproot an entire nation with only your words?” Balaam could not think of an answer, so he kept silent. (Numbers Rabbah 20:14)

The same midrash goes on to explain that one should never argue with donkeys or any other animals. They will always outwit you. For that reason, God, in His mercy and wisdom, has closed the mouths of animals. If not, they would continually make us feel stupid.

The Holy One, blessed be He, has consideration for the dignity of mankind and, knowing their weakness, He shut the mouth of beasts. For had they been able to speak, it would have been impossible to put them to the service of man or to stand one’s ground against them. For here was this donkey, the most stupid of all beasts, and there was the wisest of all wise men, yet as soon as she opened her mouth he could not stand his ground against her! (Numbers Rabbah 20:14)


Shavuah Tov! Have a Good Week!

Shadows of the Messiah
"things into which angels long to look." (1 Peter 1:12)

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