Balak: The Donkey, and Other Players By David Hartley Mark

Balak ( בלק)
Torah: Numbers 22:2 – 25:9
Haftarah: Micah 5:6 – 6:8

Balaam’s Donkey: It is odd that I am among the most famous creatures in the Bible—sad indeed, given all the unknown human innocents who die in this Holy Book, and in this Holy World which God created, and from which he seems to be growing more distant, day by day—


And now, I hear that self-styled moral midgets are choosing various verses, sharpening them to oppress others, with whose sexual, political, or moral lifestyles they may disagree—ah, well: I never claimed to be the only donkey, either within, or reading, the pages of the Bible—well, where was I? Ah, yes: the Story of Balaam, my nominal master….


Again. It is true that King Balak had summoned Balaam, my prince among pagan prophets, for the express and single purpose of cursing Israel. For what crime? Why, merely because Moses requested Balak’s permission to enter the land, and cross through his Kingdom of Moab. Moses swore to keep his people to the Royal Highway, deviating from it neither to the right nor the left—but Balak, jealous, paranoid sort that he was, would have none of it.


He sent for my master—Balaam the Pagan Prophet, that greedy, half-moral donkey-head, who had, at least, the manners to consult with the Israelite God… was he a closet Israelite, you ask? Hardly. Balaam had a healthy respect for everyone’s god; he was a god-opportunist, if you ask me, his donkey, and would never hesitate to play two gods against the middle. It might be the Babylonian Baal against the Roman Romulus, and Satan take the hindmost—that was my Balaam, a fool and a wise man both, and a gambler with gods, no error.


But this time, he went a bit too far….


Balak: …For there was I, Balak, king of Moab. My people had no great love for Israel. They insulted us for years, claiming we were the incestuous offspring of their cousin, Lot, Abraham’s nephew, in a drunken liaison with his daughter, following the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Well, you could hardly expect me to send over a fruit basket to Moses, given such a reputation, do you mark me? I considered sending out my army—but they feared such a host as Israel, whose record in fighting Egypt went before them.


And so, I determined to hire the best prophet I could find, to deliver a right and proper curse upon them, watch, and await their destruction.


God’s Angel, Who Blocked the Donkey: I stepped out of Heaven, and into the Torah, expressly on God’s orders; I existed only to carry out God’s decree: to make Balaam’s curse into a blessing. That purblind prophet did not see me, but his donkey did.


It tells you something about these men whom God created: they feel themselves all-powerful, but become so enmeshed in their own petty schemes, that they fail to see the Hand of God’s Destiny at work, even when it is there, bearing a flaming sword, and waving it beneath their very noses. Sometimes, it takes a beastie, a lesser creature of God, to show them….


All Hail the Power and Might of God, Who Works His Will in Both Earth and Heaven! And may God protect erring, boastful, and quarrelsome Humanity, today, as then.





Rabbi David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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