This Week’s Torah Portion: Balak

Name: Balak

Reading: Numbers 22:2 – 25:9

Haftarah: Micah 5:6 – 6:8

Parsha Summary – Balak

After the deaths of Aaron and Miriam, Moses leads the Israelites forward to Canaan. They battle against local enemies on the journey, and God helps them win every time. The king of Moab, Balak, sees the Hebrews emerge victorious every time, and is worried.

Balak, Balaam, and the Talking Donkey

Balak sends messengers to Balaam. He tells him to come and curse the Hebrews, because everyone knows that whoever Balaam blesses is blessed, and whoever he curses is cursed. Balaam tells the king’s messengers to rest for the night while he talks to God; he will give them an answer.

Balaam tells God that Balak wants him to curse the Israelites and drive them away from Canaan. God tells Balaam not to curse them, because they are blessed, and not to go with the messengers. Balak sends even more messengers; Balaam says that even if he sent a house of riches he would not go and disobey God. God tells him to go, but to do only what He says to.

Balaam sets out in the morning. God gets angry, and sends an angel with a sword to block the donkey he’s riding. The donkey veers off the path; Balaam hits it. This happens three time. God makes the donkey talk to Balaam. She asks why he hit her three times. Balaam replies that the donkey is working against him. God reveals His angel to Balaam; Balaam realises that he has sinned against the donkey and God.

He sets out again and promises to say only what God tells him to say to Balak. He tells the king that God brought the people out of Egypt, and that they are not to be cursed. Balak tells him that in that case, he should not bless or curse them. This angers Balak, who takes Balaam to different places in order to find one where he will curse the Hebrews.

Eventually, when the king and the priest are overlooking the camp, Balaam realises that it is only right to bless the Israelites. He utters the infamous Mah Tovu prayer: How goodly are your tents, Jacob, and your dwelling places, Israel! Balak is furous, but Balaam reassures him that the Israelites will not harm his people. They separate.

The Israelites Sin

The Israelites settle in Shittim, where the people sin and pray to Moabite gods. God orders the hanging of all who sinned: twenty-four thousand people die.