Index

  • Selected events
  • A thought from Rav Kook
  • On this week’s Torah portion: Balak: Common Wisdom Lessons from The Talking Donkey

Selected events

Tuesday 3 Tammuz

1994: Today marks the passing of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of blessed memory.  He was the seventh leader in the Chabad-Lubavitch dynasty and is considered to have been one of the most phenomenal Jewish personality of modern times.

Wednesday 4 Tammuz

1286: Rabbi Meir ben Baruch (“Maharam”) of Rothenburg (1215?-1293), the great Talmudic commentator and leading Halachic authority for German Jewry, was imprisoned in the fortress at Ensisheim. A huge ransom was imposed for his release. The money was raised, but Rabbi Meir refused to allow it to be paid lest this encourage the further hostage taking of Jewish leaders. He died in captivity after seven years of imprisonment.

Friday 8 Tammuz

1976:Jewish hostages held by Arab terrorists at Entebbe Airport, Uganda, were rescued by Israeli commando units.

A thought from Rav Kook

A person is compelled to love true perfection and to remove from his heart every speak of haughtiness, which removes all glory of the spirit.  When haughtiness is removed… a person will remain pure and have the imprint of true joy which is bound with true modesty of spirit.
El Hamidot: Gava

Balak: Common Wisdom Lessons from The Talking Donkey

Summary

In this weeks Torah portion we encounter the famous story of Bilam who has hired by Balak to curse the Jewish people.  Balak saw the Jews military victories and decided that the metaphysical route was the best way to try to ensure their defeat.  However, Bilam is only able to speak the words that God “places in his mouth” and he blesses the Jewish people rather than curse them.

Bilam travels to Balak, and his donkey stops mid road when the donkey sees an angle standing in middle of the road.  After several stops, Bilam hits his donkey with a stick.  God “opens the mouth” of the donkey, and the donkey asks what he has done wrong.  Bilam complains to the donkey “if I had a sword in my hands I’d kill you!”  To which:

The donkey said to Bilam, “Am I not your donkey which you have ridden on from as long ago until today?  Have I normally done this to you?”  He (Bilam) said, “No.”
Numbers 22:29

Question:

1) What lesson was the donkey trying to teach Bilam?

Answers:

Ramban:

The purpose of this miracle was to teach Bilam the ‘one who give speech to a person or causes deafness’ (Exodus 4:11) to make known that God can give speech to the mute, all the more so he can make mute those who have speech, or place in their mouth which ever words He wants.  Everything is in His hand.  It was also to warn him to not use sorcery or witchcraft and curse (the Jewish people) with them, since he knew witchcraft and sorcery.

According to the Ramban, the lesson was to show God control over the power of speech and to motivate him to not use the power of speech against the Jewish people.

Seforno:

The purpose of all of this was to awaken in Bilam the desire to repent, when he remembers that speech comes from God… all of this was to not destroy a person like him.

For the Seforno, this was an opportunity to allow a person to repent and not be punished for committing a sin.

Lessons / Observations

a) Interesting how for the Ramban the motivation for this miracle was to prevent Bilam from going after the Jewish people with his witchcraft, whereas for the Seforno the motivation was to give Bilam a chance to repent.

b) The donkey’s message is probably one of the most basic lessons of life: look at the big picture.  Interpret moments of frustration in light how events normally occur.  Whether this comes down to judging your spouse favorably (that explains showing up late) or keeping in mind that your 2 year old is just remarkably confident and likes to explore (thats why the milk is all over the floor, he just wanted to paint with it).  Miracles sometimes teach us the basic lessons of life.

For conversations:

What are other miracles that teach basic lessons of life?