May 27, 2022 |

My Weekly Drash (a mini D'var Torah) - Balak

No matter how familiar the story in the Torah, there's always something new to learn. Consider this week's Parshah Balak, famous for the story of Balaam and the talking ass. Balaam is the pagan prophet hired to curse the Israelites by Balak, king of Moab, but who - in the end - can only say what God decrees. In the famous incident of the talking donkey, "the ass, seeing the angel of the Lord, pressed himself against the wall and squeezed Balaam's foot against the wall." (Num. 22:23). While most readers focus on the subsequent passage where the donkey speaks, the rabbis pause here to ask what wall this is. They determine that this was the "mound" set up by Laban and Jacob (back in Genesis 31:51-52) to mark the boundary between them. They vow never to go past the mound to attack the other. Midrash declares that Balaam is a descendent of Laban (some even say he is Laban himself, now over 400 years old!) and he is going past the mound to curse the Israelites, violating the ancient vow. Thus the angel appears to block his way and the donkey presses him against the wall, to remind him of the promise. It is only when this fails that the ass speaks and Balaam sees the angel's appearance. However you take the story, it's clear that no detail is wasted in the Torah.


Daniel M. Kimmel

Joined: October 2, 2007

Daniel M. Kimmel is a Boston area film critic, lecturer and author. He does these weekly mini-lessons for the Mishkan Tefila Brotherhood's newsletter. You are free to use them for similar purposes.

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