The stage was set. The man of G-d traveled along the lonely mountain road on the way to his destination. He was about to achieve immortality – he would go down in the annals of history as the one who accomplished the impossible. The one who achieved what kings and empires had tried and failed to achieve. It was his time.
As if confirming his stature, he is met along the way by an emissary from Heaven, bearing a message for him. Fully appreciating the enormity of the moment, he reverentially dismounts and prepares to receive word from on high… except that’s not what happened.
We hear the story of Balaam, a prophet on a level comparable to Moses himself, who was tasked with bringing the word of G-d to the nations. He was granted unprecedented access to the secrets of the universe – even going so far as to claim intimate knowledge of the Heavenly thought process – in order to bring moral clarity to a depraved world. Instead, Balaam has forever become the paradigm of the man we are not to emulate. Selfish, haughty, avaricious, these are the hallmarks of the ‘disciples of Balaam the wicked’ (Avos 5: 19). Balaam bent all his power toward the goal of the destruction of the Jewish nation, hoping to pull off what Nimrod, Pharoah, Eisav and Amalek had failed to do. He would use his Divine gifts to curse the Jews, and to wipe them off the face of the Earth.
Though twice warned, via prophetic vision, that he should not go and would not succeed, he set out on his odyssey. And as he rode along that lonely mountain path, his donkey – his donkey! – started giving him signals. She wandered off the road. She squeezed his leg against a retaining wall. Then she stopped completely, refusing to budge even when he beat her. Seeing that Balaam isn’t getting the hint, G-d pulls out all the stops, calling on a tool He has reserved since the dawn of time, and the donkey begins to speak.
“Why are you hitting me?”
“Because you keep running off the road!”
“But I am your faithful donkey, who has never once let you down! Have I ever done something like this before?”
But before we get to the great revelation, let us examine this. Here is a man, supposedly in touch with the finest of Heavenly nuances, and when his donkey opens its mouth in the most miraculous way, he opens his mouth and argues right back! It’s not the words that are important here, the messenger is the message in this case. But so focused is he on his prize, so intent on destroying the Jews, that he’s arguing with a donkey, making one of himself as well.
There are times that we are so sure of ourselves, so focused on getting what we believe is coming to us, that we fail to see the angel in our way, fail to even realize the magnitude of the signals that G-d is sending to us. It would behoove us to step back sometimes – to have someone we can trust to give us an honest and unbiased opinion – so that we don’t become donkeys ourselves.
Have a wonderful Shabbos – whether at the TorahMates retreat or anywhere else.
Rabbi Yehuda Beyda
Director, Oorah’s Rebbetzins program