Weekly Torah Reading, Balak

Parashat Balak / פרשת בלק (Numbers 22:2 – 25:9; Micah 5:6 – 6:8)

Balak, King of Moab, learning how Israel had conquered the Emorites, feared an invasion of his country. He summoned Balaam, a sage and astrologer, to come and curse the Israelites, believing that this would put them to rout. Balaam was promised much glory and wealth, but he demurred at accepting the mission, as he realized that this would incur YHWH’s anger. After he had been approached again, YHWH permitted him to go, stating that He would tell Balaam what to say to Israel.

Balaam departed for Moab, and on the way he was intercepted by an angel, who reiterated YHWH’s declaration. When Balaam reached Balak, he was accorded a regal reception.

In the morning, he ascended to a temple of Baal, and ordered Balak to erect seven altars, whereon he sacrificed seven bullocks and seven rams. He followed this procedure three times – and on each occasion – the second time form the top of Pisgah and the third from the top of P’or – YHWH forced him to bless Israel instead of cursing them. Balak was naturally furious, but Balaam protested that he could not at against the wishes of Elohim. Balaam then predicted the ascendancy of Israel over all its enemies, prophesying the fall of Edom and its allies.

The Israelites meanwhile encamped at the borders of Moab, where many of them committed sin with the daughters of Moab, including idolatry. YHWH struck them with a plague and thousands of them perished.

The Haftarah portion for today begins with the sixth verse of Chapter 5 of the Book of Micah, and continues through the eighth verse of the sixth chapter. “Remember, O my people,” cries the Prophet,”What Balak, King of Moab, resolved – and what Balaam, son of B’or, answered him… for what does YHWH require of you? To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God!” The link with the Torah portion is obvious, and Micah’s words emphasize the ethical truths which our Torah advocates and teaches.

(Adapted by Rabbi Saul Katz from You That Thirst, Torah Commentaries 1940)

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