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Balak ~ בלק ~ 5774
Balak, king of Moab, is in morbid fear of B’nei Yisrael. He summons a renowned sorcerer named Bilam to curse them. First, G-d speaks to Bilam and forbids him to go. However, because Bilam is so insistent, G-d appears to him a second time and permits him to go. While en route, a malach (emissary from G-d) blocks Bilam’s donkey’s path. Unable to contain his frustration, Bilam strikes the donkey each time it stops or tries to detour. Miraculously, the donkey speaks, asking Bilam why he is hitting her.
The malach instructs Bilam regarding what he is permitted to say and what he is forbidden to say concerning the Jewish people. When Bilam arrives, King Balak makes elaborate preparations, hoping that Bilam will succeed in the curse. Three times Bilam attempts to curse and three times blessings are issued instead. Balak, seeing that Bilam has failed, sends him home in disgrace.
B’nei Yisrael begin sinning with the Moabite women and worshipping the Moabite idols, and they are punished with a plague. One of the Jewish leaders brazenly brings a Midianite princess into his tent, in full view of Moshe and the people. Pinchas, a grandson of Aaron, grabs a spear and kills both evildoers. This halts the plague, but not before 24,000 have died.
MAFTIR Numbers 25:7 – 9 ~ page 681 – 682
HAFTARAH Micah 5:6 – 6:8 ~ page 682 – 685
Micah speaks of the Messianic Age when the faithful remnant of Israel will refresh the nations by spreading G-d’s message among them. All instruments of war, idolatry and superstition, on which man relies, will be destroyed and those who disregard His teachings will be punished. Why, asks G-d, do the people neglect Him? Did He not bring them out of Egypt and provide leaders to guide them? Remember now what Balak, king of Moab planned and what Bilam, the son of Beor answered him (i.e. with blessings and not curses). The people, in reply, ask how they can show their gratitude. The prophet answers simply – all that G-d requires is ‘to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy G-d’.
Parashah Study Questions
- Why did Moab consult specifically with Midian regarding their strategy against the Jews (22:4)?
- What is the classic explanation for why G-d gave the power of prophecy to Bilam (22:5)? Does this concept bother you?
- Why did G-d have to ask Bilam, “who are these men with you?” Doesn’t G-d know everything?
- Who was the angel that opposed Bilam on the road? A good angel? An evil angel? Bilam’s angel? An angel of Israel?
- The followers of Bilam compared his encounter with the angel to another famous biblical story – which one (22:34)?