Quick Parsha Thoughts: Parshat Balak
No matter how many times you read something, each time you see it in a different light. I find that every time I read the parsha something different jumps out at me. Here are a couple of my observations from reading the parsha this week:
• I always thought that at the beginning of the story, Bilaam always seems like a good guy- he says that he can only do what Hashem wanted him to do, and Chazal have to tell us not to be fooled by that. This time when I read the story it seemed more like he was saying to Balak’s messengers, “I’m sorry, guys, I can only do what G-d tells me to do. But I really WANT to curse them! So not fair.” He tells Balak’s messengers the second time that even if they gave him gold and silver he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t even if he wanted to, but he does want to, and he seems frustrated by the fact that he can’t.
• What really fascinated me was the scene where the donkey asks Bilaam why he hit him three times. Now, what I would expect Bilaam to say (aside from, “What?? You can talk?”) is, “Well, you didn’t move, and I wanted you to move so I hit you.” But that is not what he says at all. Bilaam says, “Because you mocked me! If I had a sword I would kill you.” Why was Bilaam really mad? I always thought he was mad that the donkey wasn’t listening to him and wasn’t responding to him. Clearly that was part of it, but, as Rashi explains, Bilaam was embarrassed because Balak’s messengers were there watching him, and he felt they were laughing at him because he was being recruited to curse an entire nation, but he couldn’t even get his own donkey to move. We are so concerned about what other people think of us, I never realized that Bilaam was motivated by what other people thought of him, as opposed to being annoyed that the donkey wasn't listening to him. Interesting.
• Also thought it was interesting how many times B’nei Yisrael are referred to as “Yaakov.” For those who know any tune to the song “Al Tirah Avdi Yaakov” (I personally recommend D’veykus’s version of it), a lot of the words from that song are found in this week’s parsha. Why are B’nei Yisrael referred to as Yaakov so many times? Anyone know?
• Lastly, for some reason I always thought the line “Ma Tovu” appeared much earlier in all of the things that Bilaam says. Not sure why that was.
Have a good shabbos!