Rabbi Milevsky's Thought of the Week: Balak - 5774
THE DONKEY TALKS?
A Talking donkey is undoubtedly a perfect image for a Disney movie. Winnie-the-Pooh’s friend Eeyore articulated many pessimistic, gloomy and, depressing statements. Yet when we read the section that describes Balaam's animal asking “What have I done to thee," we are quite bewildered. What is the purpose of this supernatural event? Why would the Almighty alter nature with no clear benefit to the People of Israel from the incident?
Balaam was more than just a prophet with unique capabilities; he was a regional leader and an uncontested superhero. Leaders of countries would consult with him and he became the most popular hired gun. For this public persona the dialogue he had with his donkey was extremely humiliating. Frustrated by his animal’s behaviour he tells the ass “If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.” We can only imagine the facial expressions of the people witnessing the exchange. Here we have Balaam the sorcerer who can uproot nations with his mouth, yet he does not have the ability to silence a donkey!
The result of the exchange was a shift from veneration of Balaam to fear of the people he was hired to harm. When Rachab addresses the spies that were sent to Jericho by Yehoshua, she tells them “I know that Hashem has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you.” The anxiety was the result of the downfall of Balaam due to the talking donkey.