I promised a reader that I would start a weekly article on the parsha, or the section of the Torah that is on the Jewish calendar to be read that week. To explain — every week on Shabbos morning, a portion of the Torah is read aloud — it is split into seven sections, and seven people are called to make a blessing on the reading of the section. Many years ago, the person themselves would read that section, but now the custom is for one person to read it on their behalf. You can see which parsha is being read on any given week here — be aware that some browsers will tell you that you are looking at a page that is in Albanian. This is not the case.
This week’s parsha is Balak, which I like to refer to as Parshas Shrek — because there is a story involving a donkey that talks. When I get to that part, I always imagine Eddie Murphy’s voice as the donkey. As this is my first time writing on this parsha, I will give you the thing I think about every year when we read it — the idea that sometimes G-d puts something in our face and wants us to see it, but we are so focused on something else that we are completely oblivious to it. It is clear to everyone else that the message is there for you, but you are for all intents and purposes blind to it.
In the parsha, the wicked Bilaam has been called to destroy the Jewish people. Every day, at one precise moment, there is a time when G-d is angry as it were with the Jewish people. Bilaam had a unique talent of knowing exactly when this moment was during the day. He was called to use this talent by cursing the people, and invoking G-d’s wrath upon them. Bilaam took a donkey on the road to get to the place where he would curse the people, but G-d intercepted by putting an angel in the road with a sword to prevent him.
The problem was that Bilaam could not see this angel — and yet his donkey could. He moved to the side of the road to avoid bumping into this angel. After Bilaam is pushed to the side of the road multiple times and strikes the donkey to get it back onto the road, the donkey actually speaks with him and argues that he clearly has a reason for his actions. It is at this point that Bilaam is able to see the angel in front of him, who tells him that if the donkey had attempted to proceed, he would have killed Bilaam and spared the donkey. To which Bilaam replies,
I have sinned! I did not know that you were standing on the road before me. If you consider it wrong [for me to go], I will go back home.
By the fact that he says if, it seems to signify that he is still oblivious to the wrong that he is doing. If you are driving somewhere and see a sign that has “STOP! SEVERE TIRE DAMAGE” on it, would you try to ask someone if it is okay for you to proceed?
Sometimes we have to get hit on the head with a message before we realize that it is there for us at all.