Last week: life, death, purity and impurity, despair and hope. This week: a frightened king, a puffed-up sorcerer, and a talking ass (literal, not figurative).
For all but the last nine verses in this week’s portion, we see the Israelites from a different perspective, only through the eyes of Balak, king of Moab, and Bil’am (Balaam in English translations), a prophet of sorts whom Balak hires in an attempt to deal with the Israelite threat. Yes, now that they’ve had a few military victories and are perched on the banks of the Jordan, they are a genuine threat. The story: Bil’am has a reputation for being an effective sorcerer whose blessings and curses really stick, and Balak wants to hire him to curse the Israelites. Bil’am is a shady character. On the one hand, he does have some limited rapport with the Lord, through dreams, but he’s out for himself. He’s told by the Lord not to curse the Israelites because “they are blessed” (22:12). Bil’am is told not to go with them (imahem, 22:12), then he’s told he can go with them (itam, 22:20), then when Bil’am goes with them (im, 22:21), the Lord is angry and blocks his path with an angel and fiery sword whom only Bil’am’s old she-ass can see. After beating her a few times, the poor animal talks and Bil’am is finally able to see the angel and is warned to say only what the Lord tells him to. The Vilna Gaon explains what appears to be divine fickleness with reference to the Hebrew words used for “with” (yes, it depends what “with” means), im, used to indicate total commitment and philosophical alignment and et, which just indicates physical proximity. By this reasoning, the Lord directed Bil’am only to accompany Balak’s messengers in 22:20, but Bil’am instead joins them (22:21), whence the divine anger and angel with the flaming sword. And apparently Bil’am can’t see the angel at first because he is with (im) the enemies of Israel.
The upshot, to Balak’s dismay, is that Bil’am is compelled to bless the Israelites instead of cursing them; to this day, verses from of one of the blessings is part of our liturgy, (Mah tovu ohalekha Ya’akov…,” “How good are your tents, Jacob..,” 24:5.). Balak tries to change blessing to curse by moving Bil’am around (maybe if you see them from this angle…) and even tells him to at least just keep his mouth shut, all to no avail. Bil’am even expands his horizons to prophesy concerning the Moabites, Amalekites, Kenites… The Bil’am leaves, most unlikely unpaid.
The portion ends with what has been interpreted as Bil’am’s revenge on the Israelites, the fornicating with Moabite women at Ba’al Peor, leading to a plague (of course) which is ended not by Moses’s intercession but by an act of zealotry by Aaron’s grandson, Pinchas. More on that next time.
Shabbat shalom, Irene
A conceited new rookie
A conceited new rookie was pitching his first game. He walked the first five men he faced and the manager took him out of the game. The rookie slammed his glove on the ground as he yelled, “Darn it, the jerk took me out when I had a no-hitter going.”
A conceited actor [no, that’s not necessarily a redundancy]
Fred: I met a really conceited actor the other day.
Harry: Why do you say he’s conceited?
Fred: Well, every time there was a thunderclap during the storm, he went to the window and took a bow.
New York Magazine – Feb 16, 1981 – Page 111
He was so conceited that he wore his mirrored sunglasses backwards.
Funny Quotes about Ego
The nice thing about egotists is that they don’t talk about other people. Lucille S. Harper
Every morning when I wake up, I experience an exquisite joy – the joy of being Salvador Dalí – and I ask myself in rapture: What wonderful things this Salvador Dalí is going to accomplish today? Salvador Dalí
Egotism – usually just a case of mistaken nonentity. Barbara Stanwyck
An egotist is a self-made man who worships his creator. John Bright
What do you call a politically correct angle? …. (right)
What do you call a stubborn angle? …. (obtuse)
What do you call a pretty angle? …. (a-cute)
More Angle Jokes
What do you call a crushed angle? A Rectangle
What did the complementary angle say to the isosceles triangle? Nice legs!
‘Rapping rabbi’ makes finals in world’s largest blog competition .British comedian’s Jewish blog is one of ten finalists for Weblog Awards from short-list of 4,000. [abridged] By Lisa Zilberpriver Tags: Israel blog
Prominent British Jewish stand-up comedian and rapper MC Rebbe was named a finalist in the world’s largest blog competition this week, with winners to be announced Thursday. MC Rebbe said his was the only blog with a purely Jewish focus to reach the finals in the competition’s Culture Blog category, out of nearly 4,000 short-listed entries. The “rapping rabbi” has been blogging for three years, and says the aim of his online material is to give readers a different perspective on Jews. “The Anglo Jewish community is very insular and shies away from the public eye. In order to dispel myths about Jews people need to see who we are and what we do,” he said. “And that we’re better, obviously,” he adds, laughing. The performer, who wears traditional Orthodox Jewish garb, occasionally adding flamboyant touches – such as a full-size Passover plate on a necklace – said he has been asked at times if he is Muslim. He also told Haaretz that he frequently encounters anti-Semitism disguised as anti-Zionism. “There are as many people making anti-Semitic jokes because of their own ignorance, ingrained and overt prejudice, as there are uptight Jews over reacting to intelligent well observed jokes,” he said. The immediacy of the blogosphere gives MC Rebbe the chance to touch on rapidly-changing political developments, which would become outdated between shows, he says.
[He lost. See http://2007.weblogawards.org/polls/best-culture-blog-1.php IGP]
It’s a Matter of Perspective http://thinkexist.com/quotes/with/keyword/perspectives/
“In order to keep a true perspective of one’s importance, everyone should have a dog that will worship him and a cat that will ignore him.”
Contributed by: Rena of LunaGaia
The difference between a stumbling block and a stepping stone is whether you are cursing your bruised knee or admiring the view.
This guy sees a sign in front of a house: “Talking Dog for Sale.” He rings the bell and the owner tells him the dog is in the backyard. The guy goes into the backyard and sees a black mutt just sitting there. “You talk?” he asks. “Yep,” the mutt replies. “So, what’s your story?”
The mutt looks up and says, “Well, I discovered this gift pretty young and I wanted to help the government, so I told the CIA about my gift, and in no time they had me jetting from country to country, sitting in rooms with spies and world leaders, because no one figured a dog would be eavesdropping. I was one of their most valuable spies eight years running. The jetting around really tired me out, and I knew I wasn’t getting any younger and I wanted to settle down. So I signed up for a job at the airport to do some undercover security work, mostly wandering near suspicious characters and listening in. I uncovered some incredible dealings there and was awarded a batch of medals. Had a wife, a mess of puppies, and now I’m just retired.”
The guy is amazed. He goes back in and asks the owner what he wants for the dog. The owner says, “Ten dollars.” The guy says, “This dog is amazing. Why on earth are you selling him, so cheap? “The owner replies, “He’s such a liar. He didn’t do any of that stuff.”
Talking Bird — by Terry Walker
My father’s secretary was visibly distraught one morning when she arrived at the office and explained that her children’s parrot had escaped from his cage and flown out an open window. Of all the dangers the tame bird would face outdoors alone, she seemed most concerned about what would happen if the bird started talking.
Confused, my father asked what the parrot could say.
“Well,” she explained, “he mostly says, ‘Here, kitty, kitty.’ ”