In Balak, this week’s Torah portion, we read various stories regarding animals. Long before we get to the climax of this story where Bilaam’s donkey talks to him, we meet Balak. There we read:
And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. ( Numbers 22:2)
Balak the king of Moav was afraid of the Israelites and he sent messengers to Balaam. We wants this prophet to curse the Israelites. But what is his name? Balak the son of Zippor- Balak the son of Bird. And of course this story of animals fits into the larger context of the book of Numbers where the people of Israel are acting like animals. We saw this last week from when they were being struck down by snakes and at the end of this week’s Torah portion when they succumb to animal-like sexual promiscuity. What do we make of all of this “parsha menagerie“?
To understand this we need to focus in on the story of the Bilaam’s donkey. In the story the donkey understood the Angel’s presence while Bilaam just did not understand. And Bilaam a prophet of God not only missed the Angel, but in the process also revealed his own ugly side by striking the donkey.
This reminds me of one of my favorite TED talks.
In this piece, Janine Benyus discusses all the things we can/should learn from animals. Besides all of the amazing biological points that she makes, she teaches us that all too often we think about how to use animals and not what we have to learn from them. The donkey teaches Bilaam and us that animals are to me learned from and not just used. In the books of Numbers and in life we need to mimic the best of animal behavior and not just the worst. In the end we are animals, but that is not all. We need to be more than just animals, but we still have what to learn.