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Donkey Ears (Balak)

A very quick textual observation on this week’s parshah: 

It seems that the story of Bilaam, in this week’s parshah, may find a “sequel” of sorts in a much later Biblical tale: that of Shaul’s war against Amalek (II Sam. 15). Both feature a prophet and king colluding to destroy a foreign people. Both place particular focus upon the fates of the Amalekites, Kenites, and king Agag. Both contain strange episodes involving mercy/lack of mercy shown to animals, and of slaying with a “sword.” Both discuss attempts to influence God’s will through animal sacrifices and the use of “charms.” Both involve the desire to gain “honor” by “returning” with/to a group of “elders,”  yet end, instead, with an unceremonious and somewhat hostile parting of ways between the king and the prophet. The connections continue. Their thrust, it seems, is captured in Shmuel’s assertion that “God is not a man, that He should change His mind” — a line lifted, more or less, right out of Bilaam’s prophecy. Implicitly, perhaps, the author of sefer Shmuel critiques Shaul for committing what, in his view, amounts to the same mistake which Bilaam once had committed: namely, failing to recognize that God’s will does not bend to the whims of man — neither for punishment, nor for pardon.

Image result for eeyoreWhether that conclusion was inevitable is unclear. Within the text of sefer Shmuel itself, one finds conflicting messages on this point. Most famously: although Shmuel proclaims that “God will not relent (ינחם), for He is not a man that He should relent (להנחם)” (I Sam. 15:29), Hashem, of course, just had relented — “I relent (נחמתי) having appointed Saul as king” (ibid. 11)— and repeats as much moments later, as well (ibid. 35). Was there, then, a way for the story of Shaul to end differently than that of Bilaam? Although historical appeals for Hashem to exercise cruelty did not prevail, might a concentrated appeal to Hashem’s clemency have held more sway?

Much more may he said here, but in the interest of time, this will have to suffice for now. Meanwhile, here is the link to a source sheet, for those interested, that lays out more fully the connections between Shaul and Bilaam.

Shabbat shalom!


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