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This week's 10-Minute Torah (June, 26, 2021): "Parashat Balak" 5781

Updated: Jun 20, 2021

Parashat Balak / פרשת בָּלָק

Read on 26 June 2021 (16 Tamuz 5781).

Parashat Balak is the 40th weekly Torah portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading.

Torah Portion: Numbers 22:2-25:9

In Parashat Balak, Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, tries to hire Balaam to curse Israel, Balaam's donkey speaks to Balaam, and Balaam blesses Israel instead.

Balak, Moabite King, saw the Israelites moving through the wilderness and winning every battle waged. He was concerned that his people would be next. He sends for Balaam, a prophet (some say sorcerer), to come and curse the Children of Israel. Balaam had a reputation for being able to effectively curse, and Balak thought that Balaam by cursing Israel, could weaken them and prevent them from conquering the Moabites and Midianite.

At first, Balaam refused because Hashem had approached him and told him not to curse the Israelites. The servants of Balak offered him more. Finally, Hashem approached Balaam again and told him to go if he wanted, but Hashem would tell him what to do if he did.

Balaam set off and angered Hashem. Hashem sent an angel to block Balaam’s path. His she-donkey saw the angel and would not go. Balaam struck his donkey three times for refusing to go. The donkey then turned to Balaam and spoke to him, telling him an angel with a sword was blocking the way. Balaam’s eyes were opened and he saw the angel. The angel told him that he will say whatever words Hashem puts in his mouth.

(Some sages contend that G-d gave the donkey the power of speech in this situation. Others contend that Balaam dreamed the whole incident. Prophets get messages from G-d during sleep.)

Balaam met Balak and three times had him build seven altars and make seven offerings. Those three times as Balaam tried to pronounce curses, Hashem had him pronounce blessings. Balaam pronounced the third of the blessings, that the sages have instituted into our prayer service: “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel” (Num 24:5). Unsuccessful, Balak sent Balaam away.

Balaam then tries a different approach. He sends Moabite women to seduce the Israelites into immorality and worshipping their idols. Hashem then tells Moses to have the elders tell the leaders to execute the idol-worshippers. Finally, Pinchas, Aaron’s grandson, executes an Israelite who consorts with a Moabite princess in front of Moses and the elders.

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