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… Then 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.
A Matter of Perspective
The Jogger and the Farmer
John, a jogger, is running down a country road and is startled when a horse yells at him, ‘Hey-come over here buddy.’
John is stunned but still runs over to the fence where the horse is standing and asks, ‘Were you talking to me?’
The horse replies, ‘Sure was, man I’ve got a problem. I won the Kentucky Derby a few years ago and this farmer bought me and now all I do is pull a plough and I’m sick of it. Why don’t you run up to the house and offer him $10,000 to buy me. I’ll make you some money because I can still run.’
John thought to himself, ‘Wow, a talking horse.’ Dollar signs started appearing in his head. So he runs to the house and the old rancher is sitting on the porch.
John tells the farmer, ‘Hey man I’ll give you $10,000 for that old broken down nag you’ve got in the field.’
The farmer replies, ‘Son you can’t believe anything that horse says. He’s never even been to Kentucky.’
Jokes about Tents
Man goes to psychologist. Says he’s having a reoccurring dream where he turns into a teepee, then a wigwam, then a teepee, then a wigwam. What does it mean, doc? Doc says: “I think you are too tense”
Did you hear about the fire at the campsite? It was in tents!!!!
I got arrested one night while camping.
The policeman said I was loitering within tent.
(OK, that’s enough. IGP)
(I have not tried this, nor do I advocate it, though I admit I would have found the prospect tempting at various points of my career. IGP)
How to Curse Someone in 4 Steps (excerpts)
By Marge Floori on July 21, 2009
LOS ANGELES, CA – A controversial new book tells you how to put curses on your enemies by harnessing your dark powers in four easy steps!
All you have to do, says famed sorcerer and occult author Damien Mulkrin, is forget about the Golden Rule and resign yourself to the fact that vengeance, and plenty of it, is the only thing that will make you happy.
At that point, you can follow Mulkrin’s simple 4-point plan for unleashing the evil powers that will give you the upper hand in your battle with any enemy, no matter how strong he might be, Mulkrin declares.
“Sorcerers, witches and warlocks aren’t the only people who can cast spells and put curses on people. With a little training, anyone can do it – even you,” said Mulkrin, whose frightening new book, When Bad Things Happen to Bad People, is slated for a winter release. (I have not found any record of it online. IGP)
“In fact, my 4-point plan is simple enough for a child to follow.
“I guarantee you won’t find an easier or more effective way to deal with people who give you a hard time.”
Here is Mulkrin’s 4-point plan. (There isn’t much to it – saying some simple words in the dark at midnight, visualization of the desired harm and effects, and saying a few more words. IGP)
“If you are sincere in your desire to punish an enemy, and have absolutely no reservations about bringing him harm, the curse will work,” he said.
Parshas Balak – On 1 Foot
BILAAM: Can I curse them? Can I curse them? Can I curse them?
G-D: Sure…try it…
BILAAM: (Ahem)—Mah Tovu Ohalecha…
BALAK: Why I oughta…