As we study, we mourn the recent death of the three Israeli yeshiva students kidnapped three weeks ago on their way home from school – Eyal Yifrach (19), Gilad Shaar (16) and Naftali Frenkel (16) [Eyal ben Iris Teshura, Gilad Michoel ben Bat Galim and Yaakov Naftali ben Rachel Devorah], and pray for peace in Israel.
In parsha Balak this week, we learn of the efforts of the leader of the Moabites, Balak, to keep the Children of Israel from taking Moab. He has heard of the Amorites’ defeat at the hands of the Israelites and sends messengers to hire the sorcerer Balaam to curse the Israelites.
Balaam warns Balak’s messengers that he can only speak what God tells him, but Balak insists that Balaam pronounce a curse.
Balaam rides his donkey to where he is to meet Balak. On the road, the donkey sees an angel with a drawn sword in the roadway, and tries to turn aside, first going into a field and then making Balaam’s leg hit a wall. Balaam, who does not see the angel, begins to beat the donkey. The donkey speaks and God opens Balaam’s eyes. Balaam sees the angel and apologizes for coming to curse the Israelites. The angel tells him to continue, but warns that he will only be able to speak the words God gives him.
Balaam tries twice to curse the Israelites, but each time God causes him to bless the Jews. Balak brings Balaam to the edge of the Wilderness. Balaam understands that God wants him to bless the Israelites, and God gives him the power of prophecy. He sees the tribes encamped together in peace and harmony and utters the now famous prophetic poem that begins, “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel.”
Once again, the Torah reminds us of the peace we find in the expanses of the wilderness, surrounded by the beauty of God’s nature and the comfort of our friends tenting around us.
©2014 Nelson R. Block