A brief note: I know I have been posting less frequently in recent times, as I have also been exploring different media. I have been putting many of my thoughts and teachings in video form on TikTok, Instagram and Facebook as of late, so you can find me there as well.
Sometimes we need to take radical action.
A fable with a talking animal defines this week’s Torah portion. In the story, Balak, the king of Moab hires a seer Balaam to curse the Israelites. He has heard the stories of the Israelites leaving Egypt and their various travels, and he is fearful of them. He hopes putting a curse on them will protect him and his kingdom.
God is not pleased about this plan, and seeks to stop Balaam from carrying out his task. After some back and forth, Balaam saddles up his donkey and sets out to deliver his curse. God then places an angel with a sword in front of them, but Balaam can’t see it, only the donkey does.
The donkey then swerves out of the road, and Balaam, thinking the donkey is being stubborn and defiant, beats him with a stick. The donkey then pushes up against a wall, and again, Balaam hits him. Finally, the donkey sits down and Balaam is furious. Then the story goes,
Then God opened the donkey’s mouth, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you that you have beaten me these three times?” Balaam said to the donkey, “You have made a mockery of me! If I had a sword with me, I’d kill you.” The donkey said to Balaam, “Look, I am the donkey that you have been riding all along until this day! Have I been in the habit of doing thus to you?” And he answered, “No.”Numbers 22:28-30
This is such a powerful argument from the donkey: you know me, and I have never did anything like this before. And Balaam realizes, yes, she has never done anything like this before. So therefore, something must be unique and important about this situation. Balaam then realizes what is up, reconsiders his position, has a change of heart, and ends up blessing the Israelites rather than cursing them.
Balaam’s initial response to the donkey’s actions was to hit her (there is something about animal cruelty here but that’s for another time), something he did three times to no effect. Balaam is like us much of the time: doing the same thing over and over again with little change in the outcome. We stick to bad habits, put faith in outdated institutions, hold on to relationships that do not serve us. We sometimes make small changes or reforms, but they are not enough.
The donkey, however, takes radical change. In order to open Balaam’s eyes, she does something she has never done before. And it was that unprecedented step that was successful in bringing about a new result.
Nationally we are witnessing long standing norms under attack. Personally we are all still reeling from Covid and the pressures of these times. Perhaps the time has come to heed the donkey, and in response to all these challenges, to do something we have never done before. In that way we may open our eyes, open the eyes of others, and head down a new path that will lead to blessings, not curses.