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Parashat Balak - 5776

Dear friends,

There are only five portions of the Torah that are named after individuals - two for Jews and three for non-Jews. This week's Parasha - Parashat Balak - is one of those three.

The Parasha describes how Balak the king of Moab - fearful that the Israelites who are advancing towards the Promised Land may conquer his land also - called upon Balaam from Pethor, a well-known prophet, magician and sorcerer who can bless as well as curse people. The entire Parasha deals with Balak and Balaam and the Jewish People. Here is a brief summary of this story:

Balak takes Balaam to different observation points from where he can see the encampment of the Israelites. But on three different occasions, when he wants to curse the people, blessings come out of his mouth. The Parasha ends with Balak being angry with Balaam and sending him back to the land of Pethor.

This Parasha is also famous for the Talking Donkey - a very interesting and almost comical short story which is told at the beginning of Balaam's journey to Moab.

An angel of G-d blocks Balaam's way, and only the donkey can see the angel. The donkey swerves off the path and finally lies down and refuses to move. After being hit three times by Balaam, the donkey begins to talk and asks Balaam why he is striking her. After all, she has been a trusted animal that has served him well and carried him for many years.

On the lighter side I will share with you this explanation of the story by Rabbi Mordechai Cohen. The donkeys came before the heavenly court and complained about their fate. They have to carry heavy loads throughout heir lives, and people do not appreciate their hard labor and service. The chief justice responds:

"We gave one of you donkeys the power of speech, which no other animal has. That donkey could have used it to improve the lot of all donkeys. But instead of asking for better treatment from people, the donkey just bragged how great she was for providing excellent service and being loyal to a master. For that reason, the power of speech was taken away from them."

We are all endowed with unique gifts and talents. Intelligence, health, wealth and our special gift of speech. How do we use these talents - do we use them selfishly, or do we share them with others? They are most meaningful when we use them to improve the lives of those around us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Avram