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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. (more…)

The Men in the Middle (Balak)

When you study Tanakh carefully, you begin to notice that many of its protagonists bear striking similarities to each other. In literary terms, such characters are referred to as “mirror characters.” We have compared many mirror characters together in the past, including Yitzchak and Noah, Shimshon and Avshalom, and Yosef and Tamar. There are dozens of others. (more…)