Neil Gillman on Jewish theology (part 1/?)
"So, Rachel, how's school?"

This week's portion: prophetic (comedic) speech

This week we're in parashat Balak, in which Balaam is called-upon to curse the Israelites, but upon opening his mouth discovers he can utter only blessings.

Looked at through a certain lens, this parsha reads like slapstick. Balaam, on the road toward the place of the cursing, is temporarily thwarted by his donkey, who refuses to do his bidding -- and then talks back to him, giving him tsuris for whacking her with a stick. Shades of Shrek; can't you just hear the donkey speaking in Eddie Murphy's dulcet tones?

Once Balaam gets to the place where he's meant to offer curses, he opens up his mouth and the wrong thing comes out. (In this moment I imagine Balak as a kind of Homer Simpson figure: "D'oh!") Balak drags him to a different mountaintop -- maybe the cursing will work from here! -- but, once again, Balaam succeeds only in saying what God wills. At that point Balak, exasperated, orders him to stop: "Don't curse them and don't bless them" -- just stop talking, because you're ruining my plan! But Balaam offers blessings a third time.

Now Balak gets really mad, and vows to send Balaam away without payment. Balaam shrugs -- fine, he'll go home; he didn't want to come here in the first place -- but before he goes, he offers yet more praises for the Israelites, and while he's at it, damns a couple of enemies for good measure. Take that, Balak. See what happens when you dare to try to bring down curses on a people favored by God...

(Read the rest of my Radical Torah d'var here: Prophetic (comedic) speech.)

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