The last 9 verses of this week’s portion describe (yet another) incident of serious Israelite misbehavior .This is the incident at Baal Peor, where Israelite men are seduced spiritually and physically by the Moabites and Pinchas, Aaron’s grandson, then spears an Israelite prince and Midianite princess who are fornicating in front of the Tent of Meeting. Aside from that, the Israelites do not play an active role this week. Instead, we see them through the eyes of Balak, king of Moab, who has become frightened of the Israelites because of their recent military victories. In fact, he’s so frightened that he feels a need to call upon supernatural help, through the agency of Bil’am (“Balaam” in English), sorcerer extraordinaire (yeah, right).
Bil’am is a prophet of sorts, who actually does receive occasional communications from the Lord in dreams and has built quite a reputation for himself. Balak tries to hire him to curse the Israelites, liberally applying soft soap (22:6, “for I know whomever you bless is blessed and whomever you curse is cursed”), but the Lord tells Bil’am not to go; the people are blessed. Then the Lord relents a bit, saying that Bil’am can go but only speak the words given him by the Lord. According to Nachmanides, the Lord gives permission in order to have Israel blessed publicly by a non-Israelite prophet and then gets angry at the eagerness with which Balaam went, as if he really is willing to curse the people. An angel, visible only to Bil’am’s donkey, is sent to block the path. After several beatings, the donkey speaks, which, from Bil’am’s lack of reaction, indicates this might be another of his dream/visions. The angel reiterates that Bil’am can speak only what the Lord tells him to.
He then meets Balak, but every time he tries to curse the people, he blesses them instead. Balak, chagrined, moves him around, as if a different sight line would help, but to no avail. The first two blessings come directly from the Lord, with Bil’am as a passive conduit. But the third, which contains “Mah tovu ohalekha Ya’acov, mishk’notekha Yisrael” (How good are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel) which is now in our morning prayers, is his own. He has been truly inspired.
Unfortunately, he learns nothing from that moment and instead apparently devises a way to hurt the Israelites anyway, by instigating the disaster at Ba’al Peor at the end of the portion. Ephraim Urbach, professor of Talmud and Midrash at Hebrew University (“Rabbinic Exegesis About Gentile Prophets And The Balaam Passage” (Hebrew), Tarbitz (25:1956), p. 284 n. 56., trans.) wrote, “Balaam represents the type of man who has been given the opportunity to scale the loftiest spiritual heights but fails to stand the test and forfeits his status.” In Bil’am, we have a man who has puffed himself up beyond his real but minor ability, and when he actually finds in himself the potential to be a genuine prophet, it doesn’t “take.” He still sees his gift only as a tool for personal gain.
And what of the Israelites after Ba’al Peor? Will they be punished? Will Pinchas’ vigilantism be punished? Tune in next week!
Happy Independence Day, and an early Shabbat shalom,
Several years ago, I wrote a d’var Torah going into more depth concerning Bil’am and why the Torah spends three chapters on this story. For any of you who may be interested, I’ll post it on the website, https://igplotzk.wordpress.com . It’s called Chukkat-Balak D’var Torah 5766 .
Sunday, March 25th, 2007
A medieval Jewish astrologer prophesied to a king that his favorite mistress would soon die.
Sure enough, the woman died a short time later. The kind was outraged at the astrologer, certain that his prophecy had brought about the woman’s death. He summoned the astrologer and gave him this command: “Prophet, tell me when you will die!”
The astrologer realized that the king was planning to kill him, immediately, no matter what answer he gave. So he said, finally, “I do not know when I will die. I only know that whenever I die, you will die three days later.”
Prophecies? There’s an app for that!
For $0.99, Nostradamus – The Complete Prophecies is the perfect application for fans of Michel Nostradamus and his writings / books, and for those interested in the paranormal / psychics. Fourteen classic works are featured in Nostradamus – The Complete Prophecies in their entirety including all of his quatrains and almanacs.
[Sorry, I was unable to locate an app on how to make prophecies. IGP]
What happened to Balaam afterwards…
Talking Dog for Sale
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.”
Advertising – a judicious mixture of flattery and threats. Northrop Frye
Baloney is flattery laid on so thick it cannot be true, and blarney is flattery so thin we love it. Fulton J. Sheen
Flattery and insults raise the same question: What do you want? Mason Cooley
Listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery. Joyce Brothers
Top Ten Fourth of July Jokes
From 9 kids and 1 grownup sent in from all over the country.
10) What’s red, white, blue, and green?
A patriotic turtle!
From Jessica, age 7, Abilene, TX
9) What did one flag say to the other flag?
Nothing. It just waved!
From Eloise, age 9, Charlottesville, VA
Why did Paul Revere ride his horse from Boston to Lexington?
Because the horse was too heavy to carry!
From Betty, age 9, CT
7) How is a healthy person like the United States?
They both have good constitutions!
From Tom P., age 8, KY
6) What dance was very popular in 1776?
From Rachel, age 8, Long Beach, CA
5) What would you get if you crossed George Washington with cattle feed?
The Fodder of Our Country!
From Marie K., age 12, Dallas, TX
4) Teacher: “Where was the Declaration of Independence signed?”
Student: “On the bottom!”
From Christy, age 14, Denver, CO
3) Did you hear the one about the Liberty Bell?
Yeah, it cracked me up!
From Tom P., age 8, KY
2) What did King George think of the American colonists?
He thought they were revolting!
From Scott, age 11, Colorado
1) Do they have a 4th of July in England?
Yes. That’s how they get from the 3rd to the 5th.
From Big Al, a grownup, Frankfort, KY.