Explore Jewish heritage with an amateur Jew’s commentary on Parsha Chukat-Balak, Numbers 19:1 – 25:9. Click here to read the previous portion, Parsha Korach.
This double Parsha of Chukat-Balak was difficult to follow and not particularly moving. Feeling uninspired, I went to My Jewish Learning for commentary and a piece by Rabbi Danielle Leshaw caught my eye because it summed up my thoughts: “The ‘Worst’ Torah Portion.”
She starts by summing up the highlights:
“A donkey is beaten with a stick. Bribes are offered. Women are called whores. If that isn’t enough, people are hanged in the heat of the sun and 24,000 people are slaughtered by plague in the final verses.
Not exactly a winner of a Torah portion.”
Turns out, the ancient rabbis thought this portion kinda sucked, too. They thought Balaam, the prophet who at first wanted to curse and destroy the Israelites, was a bit of a douchebag. In the Talmud, they even drop him back into Pharaoh’s court and say he was the adviser who convinced Pharaoh to decree that the midwives kill Israelite baby boys immediately after birth.
That said, this Parsha does show Balaam change teams. He eventually defies to Moabite King and instead praises and blesses the Israelites. Rabbi Leshaw, however, calls bullshit on the idea that Balaam deserves any credit.
“It wasn’t genuine, all those blessings. They weren’t his,” she writes. “They came from God. Balaam was just the vehicle, the vocal chords, the mouth that formed the words so the world could hear.”
I’m not really sure what to make of that. If you’re a God person, aren’t we all just vehicles than for Gods actions and therefore don’t deserve credit for anything? Does credit even matter if the right thing happens? I mean, if someone goes from wanting to destroy me to praising me, I’m not sure I care if it was genuine or not. I’ll take it.
Anywho, to keep up with the story, I should mention that both Miriam (Moses and Aaron’s sister) dies in Chukat and Aaron follows at the end of the Parsha. It’s in Balak that we get Balaam, the talking donkey who defies him, and a change of heart.
Sometimes you wonder if the Torah scribes were on something when they wrote the thing.