Saturday, July 5, 2014

Balaam and his talking ass


Today is Shabbat Balak. 
This means the Torah portion for the week is Parashat Balak, which is roughly Numbers 22-24, one of my favorite Bible stories.
Balak, the king of Moab, hires Balaam, a non-Jewish prophet, to curse the Israelites.

 Balaam gets on his donkey and rides off to curse the People. 
But three times the she-ass tries to avoid a confrontation with an angel, who is holding a drawn sword and blocking their way. 
The man's eyes have not yet been opened and he is angered by his donkey's erratic behavior.

"When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down [refusing to budge] for Balaam. Balaam's anger was kindled and he struck the ass with his staff." (Numbers 22:27)

 "THEN THE LORD OPENED THE MOUTH OF THE ASS  and she said to Balaam, 'What have I done to you that you beat me these three times?'
 'You have been playing games with me!' shouted Balaam at the donkey.  'If I had had a sword in my hand just now, I would have killed you!' 
The donkey replied to Balaam, 'Am I not your ass, upon which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Was I ever accustomed to do so to you?' 
And he said, 'No.' "

"Then God opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way ...  and he kneeled and prostrated himself on his face."

Finally Balaam reaches his destination and opens his mouth to curse, but blessings come out instead. 
In fact, the words of Balaam are to this day sung  in our daily morning prayers:
 "Ma tovu--how good are your tents, Jacob, your tabernacles,  O Israel."

Balaam and His Ass,  1622
Pieter Lastman, Dutch, 1583-1633
Oil on panel
At the Israel Museum, Jerusalem

(Linking to Camera Critters meme.)


  1. amazing parallel looks like talking

  2. That's one part of Scripture I wasn't familiar with. A beautiful painting... and what a face!

  3. I always loved that story too. The donkey in your photo sure does look like she's saying something! Balaam didn't seem at all surprised to hear his own talking to him did he! I guess he was in too much of a rage to think about that.

  4. I, also, had not heard of this tale. I agree... it's the expression!

  5. Never heard of this, I am not very fond of donkeys, but the nice Dutch painting depicting the story is a real gem!


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