Parashat Balak / פרשת בלק

Crop of Balaam and His Ass by Rembrandt


Parashat Balak is the 40th weekly reading in the annual Torah reading cycle, and the seventh reading of Bamidbar (“Numbers”). Balak (בָּלָק) is the second word of the parashah, being the name of the king of Moav (Moab) who attempts to hire Bilam (Balaam) to curse Yisrael (Israel) after the defeat of the Eimori (Amorites). The parashah primarily records the related events, but also “Plan B”, which follows.

Bilam begins well, but his resolve to do the will of HaShem is tested when Balak sends a second envoy with more and greater princes to him with an offer of a great reward. At Bilam’s persistence, HaShem permits him to go to Balak under certain circumstances. Seeing Bilam’s recklessness of heart, however, HaShem’s malakh (messenger/angel) is sent to Bilam with near fatal consequences. In HaShem’s mercy, however, Bilam is saved by his donkey in a miraculous way, yet while incurring Bilam’s wrath for making him look foolish.

Three times Balak offers sacrifices on seven altars at the direction of Bilam, and three times Bilam is moved by HaShem to pronounce blessings upon Yisrael, rather than curses; and to prophesy concerning the coming Messiah. Balak’s mistake is thinking that G-d is like a man that He would lie, or like the sons of Adam that He would change His mind. As Bilam says, however, ‘…there is no enchantment against Ya’akov (Jacob); no divination against Yisrael.’

Parashat Balak ends with the account of the temptation of Yisrael by the seduction of the women of Moav who, as an alternative to simply cursing Yisrael, invite Bnei Yisrael to the sacrifices of their gods—so called—on the advice of Bilam, as the Torah later states. Dire consequences follow the treachery of Bnei Yisrael, yet HaShem is moved to grace again on account of the zeal of Pinekhas ben Eliezar (Phinehas, the son of Eliazar), the son of Aharon (Aaron).

Torah Portion: Numbers 22:2 – 25:9

1st Aliyah: Numbers 22:2-12 (11 verses)
2nd Aliyah: Numbers 22:13-20 (8 verses)
3rd Aliyah: Numbers 22:21-38 (18 verses)
4th Aliyah: Numbers 22:39-23:12 (15 verses)
5th Aliyah: Numbers 23:13-26 (14 verses)
6th Aliyah: Numbers 23:27-24:13 (17 verses)
7th Aliyah: Numbers 24:14-25:9 (21 verses)
Maftir: Numbers 25:7-9 (3 verses)

Reading from the Nevi’im (Prophets):
Micah 5:6 – 6:8

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