From ReformJudaism.org https://reformjudaism.org/torah/portion/balak
Balak (בָּלָק – Hebrew for “Balak”, a name) – Numbers 22:2−25:9
Balak son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. – Numbers 22:2
- Balak, the king of Moab, persuades the prophet Balaam to curse the Israelites so that he can defeat them and drive them out of the region. However, Balaam blesses the Children of Israel instead and prophesies that Israel’s enemies will be defeated. (22:2-24:25)
- God punishes the Israelites with a plague for consorting with the Moabite women and their god. The plague is stayed after Pinchas kills an Israelite man and his Midianite woman. (25:1-9)
From ReformJudaism.org https://reformjudaism.org/torah/portion/balak
By: Beth Ellen Young
STRUGGLING WITH TORAH and REFLECTION
You can read this week’s Torah Portion at https://www.sefaria.org/Numbers.22.2-25.9
From “The Torah / A Women’s Commentary” edited by Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Rabbi Andrea L. Weiss, Ph.D.
בלק Balak – Numbers 22:2–25:9
Dangerous Foreigners by Nili Sacher Fox, p. 937
PARASHAT BALAK centers on the actions of the Moabite king Balak and the prophet Balaam son of Beor, whom he hires to curse Israel into oblivion (22:2–24:25). It concludes with a dangerous encounter and worship of Baal-peor, a Canaanite god.
At the close of the previous parashah, the people of Israel were making final preparations to enter Canaan. The story of Balaam is inserted at this juncture because its outcome determines whether Israel will indeed inherit the Promised Land. Actually, it is a contest in the divine realm between the God of Israel and those supernatural elements available to Balak. At times amusing and somewhat mocking of the non-Israelite prophet, the message of the story is quite serious: God’s intent reigns supreme and cannot be superseded. Israel’s deity ultimately controls even the powers of a well-known foreign seer. In the end, Balaam’s four oracles reverse Balak’s goal–by blessing Israel and cursing her enemies. Notably, Balaam’s talking donkey, who is portrayed as the wiser of the pair, is a jenny (a female donkey)–perhaps reminiscent of the biblical personification of chochmah, “wisdom,” as female (see, for example, Proverbs 1:20).
Importantly, a visionary named Balaam son of Beor is mentioned outside the Bible; he is featured on an ancient but fragmentary plaster wall inscription [found at Deir Alla, a site east of the Jordan River], located not far from where the biblical story is set….
The final portion of the parashah (25:1–9) resumes the narrative begun in the first verse of Numbers 22 but interrupted by the story of Balak and Balaam. It recounts the misadventure of a group of Israelite men who have sexual encounters with local Moabite women–and end up worshipping the local deity, Baal-peor. The account focuses on one particular couple: an Israelite man and his partner, a Midianite woman. The priest Phinehas impales the two in a fit of religious zeal. The Baal-peor incident results in the death of 24,000 Israelites who are struck down by a divinely sent plague.
In this episode the Moabite women are depicted as dangerous enticers who lead the Israelite men to idolatry. The account serves to highlight the biblical portrait of the dangerous foreign woman, a motif prevalent in the book of Proverbs, where young men are repeatedly warned to avoid her (Proverbs 2:16; 5:3, 20; 7:5; 23:27; 27:13). A similar theme is found in other biblical passages as well (see Exodus 34:16).
Another View – by Hilary Lipka, p. 954
IN THE BRIEF and gruesome episode at the conclusion of parashat Balak (25:6–9), what do the Israelite man and the Midianite woman do to provoke Phinehas’s wrath? Apparently it is the brazenness of an Israelite leader engaging in idolatrous worship with the daughter of a Midianite chieftain within the sight of the whole community that causes Phinehas’s immediate, violent reaction. But the text raises a number of questions and gives a few hints that something else may have incited his brutal response as well.
First, the priestly author mentions that the man brought the woman (identified in the next parashah respectively as Zimri and Cozbi), to echav, translated here as “his companions” (v. 6). The term ach is a kinship term, often translated as “brother” or more loosely as “kin.” If, following Ibn Ezra, we translate echav as “kinsmen,” then it appears that Zimri is introducing Cozbi to his family. Then they step into the kubbah, a word that appears nowhere else in the Bible, here translated as “chamber” (v. 8). If they are simply going there to engage in idolatry, why would he have introduced her to his family? Second, why does Phinehas kill both Zimri and Cozbi, when Moses commanded to kill only the Israelites who were engaging in idolatry (v. 4)? Third, why does the author include the detail that Phinehas stabs both Zimri and Cozbi in the belly (v. 8) if their crime is worshipping foreign gods?
One explanation that answers all of these questions is that the author conveys through these details that Zimri has married Cozbi, and that they come to the Israelite camp so that he can introduce his bride to his family. Thus, the kubbah is a marriage canopy where the couple goes to consummate the marriage. Therefore, the issue is also intermarriage, not only idolatry.
If this interpretation is correct, then the recounting of this incident reflects an attitude toward intermarriage that conflicts with other biblical stories. Possibly the report about Moses’ own wife Zipporah, which states that she was a Midianite woman and a priest’s daughter, aims specifically to illustrate a different perspective toward foreign women (Exodus 2:16–21; see also how Zipporah rescues Moses from death in Exodus 4:24–26). The book of Ruth, where a Moabite woman becomes the progenitor of King David, likewise challenges an exclusionary perspective.
From “Mishkan T’filah / A Reform Siddur”:
FOR OUR COUNTRY p.516
THUS SAYS ADONAI, This is what I desire: to unlock the fetters of wickedness, and untie the cords of lawlessness; to let the oppressed go free, to break off every yoke. Share your bread with the hungry, and take the wretched poor into your home. When you see the naked, give clothing, and do not ignore your own kin.
O GUARDIAN of life and liberty, may our nation always merit Your protection. Teach us to give thanks for what we have by sharing it with those who are in need. Keep our eyes open to the wonders of creation, and alert to the care of the earth. May we never be lazy in the work of peace; may we honor those who have [served, suffered or] died in defense of our ideals. Grant our leaders wisdom and forbearance. May they govern with justice and compassion. Help us all to appreciate one another, and to respect the many ways that we may serve You. May our homes be safe from affliction and strife, and our country be sound in body and spirit. Amen.
We recite MI SHEBËRACH for the victims of abuse, brutality, conflicts, fear, natural disasters, pandemics, tragedies, violence of all kinds especially directed at individuals and specific communities including us, and war; for all those at home alone or lonely; for all those in need of physical, emotional, and mental healing. “R’fuah sh’lëmah” – a complete recovery!
We say KADDISH YATOM for those of our friends and families who have died and been buried this last week; those in the period of Sh’loshim (30 days since burial); those who have died in the last year; and those whose Yahrzeits/Anyos occur at this time; as well as the victims of brutality, conflict, disease, natural disasters, pandemics, tragedies, violence of all kinds, and war.
This coming week, 17 Tamuz through 23 Tamuz, we lovingly remember:
Those victims of the Sho’ah (Holocaust) who died at this time of year.
“ZICHRONAM LIV’RACHAH” – MAY THEIR MEMORIES BE FOR BLESSING.
TORAH STUDY AND SHAZOOM
We will meet as usual at the regular times for Torah Study and Shazoom this evening, Friday, July 15, 2022.
Zoom regularly updates its security and performance features. Making sure you have the latest version of Zoom, please join us online this evening with wine/grape juice for Kiddush and Challah for Motzi.
Topic: Torah Study – Balak (triennial part) Num. 22:2-22:9
Time: Jul 15, 2022 06:00 PM Arizona
Shazoom – Erev Shabbat Service
Time: Jul 15, 2022 07:30 PM Arizona
To join Torah Study and/or Shazoom click on the following link [you may need to copy it into your browser]: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/72510500854?pwd=Z3VQZWF4U1BBZytNYmh3aHFTWkFDZz09
Meeting ID: 725 1050 0854
Hint: The last character of the password is the number zero.
Shabbat Shalom – Buen Shabbat!