In Parasha Balak this week, we learn of the efforts of the king 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 non-Jewish prophet Balaam to curse the Israelites.
Balaam warns Balak’s messengers that he can only speak what God tells him, but King 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 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.”
Balaam knew that he could only speak as God commanded him, and he was bright enough to realize that God had been blessing the Israelites and was not likely to curse them. Balaam warned Balak about this again and again, but Balak insisted Balaam keep cursing the Israelites. Balak was so wrapped up in the result he wanted that he could not recognize the reality of the situation.
Sometimes we get so consumed with pursuing a goal we lose sight of what is actually happening around us. Unfortunately, this is often the case when we are pursuing the wrong goal. If something is not working after many tries, perhaps we should consider whether what we are trying to do is the right thing.
©2017 Nelson R. Block. Prior Derech Tsofeh are available at www.jewishscouting.org and on Facebook at The Jordan Block Shabbos Observatory.