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Two Minutes of Torah: Balak - Listening to the Donkey

In the movie Shrek, we’re introduced to a talking donkey voiced by Eddie Murphy, as one of the fairy tale creatures existing in that place.  We might think that a talking donkey would be the stuff of fairy tales, but actually a talking donkey appeared in this week’s Torah portion.

This week as we read the Torah portion of Balak, we read how the king of Moab was so scared of the Israelites that he sent for the prophet Balaam to come and curse the Israelites.  And while Balaam was initially reluctant knowing that God was not in favor of this plan, eventually he consented and followed Balak’s servants.  He was riding on his donkey when the donkey saw ahead of her an angel of Adonai standing in the way and, so first she swerved to the side and Balaam beat her.  Then when the angel re-positioned himself she swerved the other way squashing his foot against the wall, and he beat her again.  And then once more as the angel was in front of the donkey, she just stopped and so he beat her a third time.  

Finally God opened the mouth of the donkey and so the donkey said to Balaam “what have I done to you that you have beaten me these three times?”  Balaam said to her “you’ve made a mockery of me, if I had a sword with me, I’d kill you”.  Then the donkey responded “look, I am the donkey that you’ve been riding all along until this day.  Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”  And he answered, “No”.  And then God uncovers Balaam’s  eyes so that he sees the angel standing in front of him.  In this way, Balaam’s donkey was trying to save him each of these times and yet, three times over, she was beaten as a result.  

Until God gave her the mouth to speak, she could not open her mouth to tell Balaam what lay ahead of him.  But as we read the story we may not encounter talking donkeys in our lives, but there will be occurrences where someone’s trying to tell us something without words.  Where someone for whatever reason cannot say what they need to say and we have to be adept at picking up the other signs.  Of being conscious of the signals that they give us in their behavior and in their actions.

The story of Balaam’s donkey is the story of an inability to share a warning or share words that needed to be spoken.  And in our own lives we might think of those people that we need to listen to.  Being aware, not just of what they say but of what they do, so that we can be there to help them and, in turn, so that they can be there to help us.  Balaam’s donkey reminds him that this is not the way she normally behaved and so he should have been more attuned to the change in her behavior.  We can learn this lesson for our interactions with our fellow people and also possibly with our donkeys.  

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