An angel of God
Seen by the talking donkey
But not by Balaam

Torah stories don’t get much stranger than this week’s tale of Balak, King of Moab, who calls upon Balaam, a non-Jewish prophet, to curse the Israelites. This one includes a talking donkey, a prophet unable to see an angel of God, and a blessing where a curse was requested.

God tells Balaam not to go with Balak (Num. 22:12), but the prophet asks again. God relents, but with the warning that “whatever I command you, that you shall do.” (Num. 22:20), and we are told “God was incensed at his going.” (Num. 22:22)

As Rabbi Steven Kushner writes in this week’s Ten Minutes of Torah, the story is a warning about “prophecy gone bad.”

Prophecy is powerful and sacred and potentially even dangerous stuff. The true prophet never seeks out the word of God. On the contrary, he resists it. And he certainly never tries to manipulate it. The prophet is just the mouthpiece, nothing more. Indeed, as the prophet Micah so eloquently put it in perspective, God demands only three things of us: to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). The operative word there is “humbly.”


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