A Drash for Balak (5767)
by Marc Mangel
Given the ease with which God manipulated Pharoh’s mind, the
story of Balaam and his animal is quite remarkable. God
intervenes twice in this episode: first to give the animal
speech (v 28) and then to give Balaam revelatory
sight (v 31). So, there must be important
things for us to learn.
God did not have to give the animal revelatory
sight – only speech. Rashi tells us that God has given animals
the permission to see more than people can see –
and that if we could see all that animals see our
minds would become scrambled. Animals
are generally able too see both harmful
spirits and benevolent angels.
This has led to long discussions about whether animals have souls.
The general conclusion is that they do not have souls as we
do, but it is clear that they have a presence – a force.
Anyone who has ever come home to a house after
a pet of long-standing has died can sense the absence of the force in the house.
Second, notice how Balaam responds when the ass turns aside
from the angel – he gets angry and hits the animal. The
midrash teaches us the we should learn from this
example that when we become irritated at
someone else for going against our wishes,
we should use it as a cue that we might
be going against HaShem’s
In this way, we can use otherwise irritating situations as opportunities for self-improvement and for building a dwelling place for God in this world.
The Midrash especially emphasizes that we go against God’s
wishes when we shout at another person for not listening to
us. If we listen to God’s wishes about how to treat
another rperson, we will always talk politely and
Our behavior creates the dwelling place for God in this world. And
the end of the haftorah gives us as good a guide as any:
“What HaShem seeks from you: only the performance
of justice, the love and kindness and walking
humbly with your God”.
May we all do this.