Then the LORD opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?” — Numbers 22:28
The Torah portion for this week is Balak, after the king of the Moabites, from Numbers 22:2–25:9, and the Haftorah is from Micah 5:6–6:8.
Long before Mr. Ed, the talking horse, or the talking donkey from “Shrek,” there was Balaam’s donkey. This week’s portion contains the fascinating story about a king, a sorcerer, and a talking donkey. The three were on a mission to curse the children of Israel, but they did not succeed. In the process, we learn an important lesson from the mouth of the donkey.
Here is what happens: After agreeing to help King Balak of Moab weaken the Israelites, Balaam, a sorcerer, traveled to where the children of Israel were encamped. He woke up early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and headed out with the officials of Moab who had come to accompany him.
Yet God, who was very angry that Balaam would attempt to harm His chosen people, sent an angel with a sword to block his way. Only the donkey saw the angel, and so only the donkey tried to avoid it, resulting in Balaam beating his donkey to get it back on course.
This episode repeated itself three times until “the LORD opened the donkey’s mouth” and it said: “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?” The donkey reminded Balaam that he had always been a faithful servant. Finally, Balaam’s eyes were opened, and he saw the angel and understood.
The Hebrew word for donkey is chamor. It shares almost the same letters as the word chomer, which means “material.” In our story, the donkey represents material things and physicality. Often times in our lives, when we can’t do what we want or get what we want, we blame our material situation. We get angry that we don’t have enough money, or frustrated that our car broke down. We blame the weather, our appearance, our house, you name it! But it’s never really the material objects that are in our way. There is something that we can’t see – an angel of some sort – blocking our way, for reasons known only to God.
Don’t hit the donkey! The material part of our life has served us well, and we need to be extremely grateful for it all! If something is blocking us, it’s because God has decided that we shouldn’t go somewhere or do something – and it’s always for our very best. In Hebrew, the word for “angel” also means “messenger.” When the material things in our lives don’t work as we would wish, it’s because they are being blocked by an angel, a messenger from God.
I recently read this quote: “Problems are not stop signs, they are guidelines.” When our material objects don’t do what we want, they are merely pointing us in another direction. It would be wise to follow those signs. They are given to us by God’s loving guidance.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President