Thoughts on Parashat Balak

This week’s parasha is Balak, Numbers 22.2 – 25.9.[i] In the parasha, Balak, king of Moab, sought out Balaam the prophet to curse Bnei Yisrael and thereby save not only Moab, but Midian and the rest of the area. Balaam started out ok; first by refusing to go (22.13), and then by affirming that he could only speak the words that the LORD told him to speak (22.38). Then to Balak’s great displeasure, Balaam proceeded to bless Bnei Yisrael, not once but four times (23.7-10 & 18-24; 24.3-9 & 15-19). Twice in almost the same words, Balaam affirmed that he heard the very words of the LORD as he affirmed: “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down with his eyes uncovered…” (Numbers 24.3-4 & 15-16). Sadly, however, we discover that regardless of this revelation Balam still brought about the LORD’s judgement on Bnei Yisrael as seen in the incident at Baal-Peor (Numbers 25.1-9; cf. 31.16 & Revelation 2.14). Therefore, it is clear that hearing and knowing the voice of the LORD are not a guarantee of holy or righteous living. These are a choice that each of us must make on a daily, even moment-by-moment basis.

The Haftarah, Micah 5.6 – 6.8, ends with these words from the LORD through Micah,

He has told you, humanity, what is good, and what Adonai is seeking from you: Only to practice justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. (6.8)

According to Rashi, this charge is not new to the prophet Micah. Rashi connects “what is good”[ii] to the clear exhortation that HaShem had already made to Bnei Yisrael before they entered into the Land of Promise,

So now, Israel, all that Adonai your God asks from you is to fear Adonai your God, follow all his ways, love him and serve Adonai your God with all your heart and all your being; to obey, for your own good, the mitzvot and regulations of Adonai which I am giving you today. (Deuteronomy 10.12-13)

Walking in the fear of (respect for or devotion to) the LORD, and obeying His voice with all our heart and all our being is the path HaShem set for both Israel and, in fact, all humankind. In addition, it is “for our own good.” Yeshua affirmed this when he dialogued with a young man seeking “eternal life”,

“And behold, a man came up to him, saying, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ And Yeshua said, ‘You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘All these I have kept. What do I still lack?’ Yeshua said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19.16-22)

It is interesting to note that both in Deuteronomy and in Matthew, walking uprightly required obedience to the mitzvot, the commandments. Micah eludes to the same when he says, “you have already been told what is good, what Adonai demands of you….” Following the mitzvot of the HaShem will cause one “to act justly, love grace and walk in purity with [their] God.” Rav Shaul continues in this vein when he states, “So the law (Torah) is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7.12). What Balaam missed was that he needed to make a choice to act in accordance with what he had heard. Instead, like the young man who had approached Yeshua, Balaam chose the promised temporal riches over the relationship with the God of Israel; instead of choosing life, Balaam chose and received death (Joshua 13.22).

Just like Balaam and the young man who came to Yeshua, we too have a choice to make each and every day. Will we “act justly, love grace and walk in purity with our God” or will we walk in our own way doing what we want regardless of the truth we have heard and know in our hearts?

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

[ii] Rashi on Micah 6.8 “He has told: The Holy One, blessed be He, has told you what is good for you to do.”

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Michael Hillel with his wife Vered and their three children, made aliyah from the US in late 80s, and in biblical fashion has, for the last 27 years, done whatever his hands have found to do. In 2013 Michael began working on a MA degree in Messianic Jewish Theology. Using the tools learned from his studies, he has been writing teaching and devotional materials from both the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings. Since Messianic Judaism shares a communal context with both Judaism and Christianity, he incorporates material from both traditionally Jewish and Christian perspectives.