One of the Torah’s most entertaining scenes is the confrontation between the prophet Bil’am and his talking ass. Bil’am, a prophet considered to be the gentile prophetic equal to Moshe, Balak, king of Moav, to curse the otherwise unstoppable Israelites. As he rides his long-serving animal up the hill to get a better view of his target, the ass becomes a pain. She sees an angel of God standing in the way, sword drawn menacingly.
Slapstick ensues as the animal becomes recalcitrant, first refusing to move, then trapping Bil’am’s leg against the rock, then finally just sitting down on strike. Each time, Bil’am gets more and more angry, beating the poor beast until she can’t take it anymore. God opens her mouth, and she pleads with him to stop the beatings. Bil’am then responds with a lethal threat:
“You have made a mockery of me! If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you now!” (Numbers 23:29)
This utterance is loaded with irony. On one hand, it’s a damning reflection of Bil’am’s talents as a prophet; on the other, it’s an indictment of a personality trait that renders him ineffective in any pursuits. On Shabbat morning, we’ll study these words more carefully, and extrapolate the lesson for all of us.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise