Weekly Torah Commentary — Balak July 4, 2014

BALAK Numbers/Bamidbar 22:2 – 25:9

This week’s reading focuses on the king, Balak, who hires the prophet Balaam to curse the Israelites, whom he perceives as a threat. When Balaam asks God what to do, God replies clearly in vs. 12, ” “Do not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” Pretty straightforward, right?
This should be the end of the story but it’s not.

The king’s men return to him with the reply that Balaam has refused to come. The king is not pleased and sends them back with bigger and better promises of financial reward. On this second visit, they plead with Balaam, “Let nothing hinder you from coming…” At first, Balaam ‘religiously’ declares that he can do nothing that God doesn’t tell him to do. BUT, then tells the entourage to spend the night and he’ll go back and inquire of God a second time. Now we begin to see the true Balaam. He waffles. After all, there’s big money involved. Maybe he can persuade God to change his mind.

God knows our heart better than we do. Seeing that Balaam was inclined to go to Balak, in spite of the clear directive not to, God essentially says, “Fine. You’re determined to do what you want to do, so go, but you may NOT curse the people.”

Still, God seems to be angry that Balaam has chosen this path, and sends an angel to block his way. The prophet’s donkey sees the angel, and refuses to proceed, but Balaam thinks the donkey is disobeying him. Finally, God opens Balaam’s eyes to the angel, and then Balaam pleads ignorance–he wouldn’t have tried to move on if he had known there was an angel blocking his way, he claims.

He says, “I have sinned. . .” What specifically was the sin?

This is one of those times when “not knowing” is itself the sin. And aren’t we all prone to that “sin”?

We ask God for direction about an issue or decision. He responds to our inquiry and makes known His will. Sometimes it’s not what we wanted to hear, not what we wanted to do, so instead of embracing His will fully, we continue to have internal conversations with ourselves as to why we should do be able to find a way to do what we want. We may act too sophisticated to admit that we are rejecting God’s guidance and looking for a way to do ‘our own thing’ but that truly is what we are doing.

Balaam’s sin was that he should have known there would be consequences to his decision. If he was so visibly recognized as a prophet that a king would send for him, then he’d been prophesying for quite some time. He’d built a reputation; he was known as a seer. Then he also should have been well aware that when a prophet seeks to do his own will rather than God’s, he courts disaster.

Armed with God’s apparent and qualified permission, Balaam went anyway, even though he knew that Balak’s goals were destructive, revealing a glaring character flaw within Balaam. Whether it was because the financial reward Balak promised was too much too pass up, or whether he was a very strong willed individual determined to do what he chose to do, he nevertheless made a decision in direct contradiction to God’s initial directive: “Do not go with them..”

Three times the king tried to get Balaam to curse Israel. Three times Balaam refused. In the end, after blessing Israel, the prophet returned home empty-handed. No reward from Balak; no money, no honors.

In Tune with Torah this week = the path of blessing is that of obedience. How often in the Torah does God say, “If you will….I will….” Trying to rationalize doing our own thing in opposition to what we know is God’s will and His ways will always leave us, like Balaam, empty-handed. May we this Shabbat confront our self-will and re-submit ourselves without reservation to our Father, our King.

Shabbat shalom

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