Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Parshat Balak

You can read the basics here.

Bil'am and his donkey (Numbers, chapter 22, verses 23-30)
From my perspective, the two puzzling things about the incident of the talking donkey are that (a) Bil'am doesn't seem the least bit surprised by the fact that his donkey has suddenly acquired the power of human speech, and (b) Bil'am's donkey never says that she can't move because there's an angel with a sword in his hand blocking the way. Seriously, HaShem, why bother giving an animal the power of speech if the animal's not going to say something helpful?

For the record, that's one mean prophet, threatening to kill his donkey just because she'd "mocked" him by disobeying.

Foreign influence enshrined in the siddur/prayer book
Those who would have us believe that there have never been any outside influences on Judaism must be hard-pressed to explain the inclusion of the blessing of the non-Jewish Bil'am in our siddur. Numbers chapter 24, verse 5 ("Mah Tovu") is traditionally recited upon entering a synagogue.

The plague of Baal Peor (Numbers, chapter 25)
Not one of our finer moments, but, as usual, the number of people reported dead sounds preposterous.

Nice ending to the haftarah
See verse 8 here.


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