Torah Commentary

How to Avoid Getting Stuck in Balak’s Trap

July 20, 2019Dr. Ruhama Weiss, Ph.D.

In Parashat Balak, King Balak and the people of Moab, central characters in the weekly Torah portion, are afraid of the Children of Israel. Balak tries to recruit the prophet Balaam to curse the Children of Israel in order to weaken them and save Moab from impending defeat. King Balak sends for his prophet twice and Balaam barely responds. Three times Balak attempts to force a curse on Israel out of Balaam's mouth and three times he fails. It is fascinating to try to understand what causes a king to attempt the same solution, and fail again and again, and despite this, to not change his strategy.

Learning Wisdom from a Beast of Burden

June 30, 2018Rabbi Lisa Grushcow

There is no doubt that the donkey is the star of Parashat Balak. In an episode that itself is unnecessary to the plot of the Book of Numbers, she is dispensable. And yet she leaps out of the text (as much as a donkey can leap) as one of the most unforgettable characters of the book.

Distracted by Blessing

July 8, 2017Rabbi Vered L. Harris

In this week’s Torah portion, Balak, the king of Moab, Balak, is afraid that the Israelites’ encampment will ravish his land. He seeks to have a diviner named Balaam curse the Israelites. But God turns the curses to blessings.

Love Yourself When Your Neighbors Won’t

July 23, 2016Joseph A. Skloot

This week's Torah reading, Parashat Balak, helps us consider the effects of persecution on our psyches. In it, we encounter Balaam, a prophet for hire, whom the Moabite king Balak enlists to curse the Israelites. Balaam, however, is unable to fulfill his commission. Balaam recounts:

From Aram has Balak brought me,
Moab's king from the hills of the East:
Come, curse me Jacob, Come, tell Israel's doom!
How can I damn whom God has not damned,
How doom when the Eternal has not doomed?
As I see them from the mountain tops,
Gaze on them from the heights,
There is a people that dwells apart,
Not reckoned among the nations, . . . (Numbers 23:7-9)

Balaam, looking down at the Children of Israel's camp from the heights of the surrounding peaks, sums up the people's history up to that point and well into the future: "There is a people that dwells apart, / Not reckoned among the nations," he sings.