Balak, king of Moab, is in morbid fear of Bnei 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 rconcerning 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.
Bnei Yisrael begin sinning with the Moabite women and worshiping 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 Aharon, 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: The Messianic Age Micah 5-6:6-8 ~ page 682
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, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy G-d’.