Saddle the Donkey - בלק

Friday, 29 June, 2018 - 8:09 am

d.jpgSaddle the Donkey

There are two towering figures in the Torah that originate from the city of Aram in Mesopotamia. The first one is Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish people, the second is Bilaam, the gentile prophet who is the protagonist of this week’s Torah portion.

While Abraham and Billam were both great prophets who hailed from Aram they could not be more different from each other. Abraham was a man whose heart was filled with kindness, a man who spent his life teaching love for G-d and every one of G-d’s creations.Even in the wicked people of Sodom, Abraham looked for goodness. Abraham journeyed, to what would eventually become the land of Israel, on a mission to spread the awareness of G-d and morality. Billam could not have been more different than Abraham. Billam was a man full of hate, he possessed an “evil eye”, the unfortunate “skill” of seeing bad within people. Billam journeyed toward Israel by request of Balak, the king of Moab, who hired Billam to curse the Jews.

Billam’s journey to the hills of Moab is one of the most fascinating and unusual stories in the Torah; a journey which included multiple encounters with an angel of G-d, and a talking donkey. At the start of the Journey the Torah tells us:   

In the morning Balaam arose, saddled his she-donkey and went with the Moabite dignitaries. (Numbers 22:21)

When Billam was called to Moab, so anxious was he to perform the service which promised to be the highlight of his career, that he didn't rely on his lads or servants.  He saddled his donkey all by himself.  

On the journey to the binding of Isaac, the climax of his devotion and love to G-d, Abraham too saddled his donkey by himself, as the Torah tells us:  

And Abraham arose early in the morning, and he saddled his donkey, and he took his two young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for a burnt offering, and he arose and went to the place of which God had told him. (Genesis 22:3)

Rashi comments on this striking similarity of saddling  the donkey in these very different journeys:

[Billam] saddled his she-donkey: From here [we learn] that hate causes a disregard for the standard [of dignified conduct], for he saddled it himself. The Holy One, blessed is He, said, “Wicked one, their father Abraham has already preceded you, as it says, 'Abraham arose in the morning and saddled his donkey’”.

Rashi is offering insight that is relevant to each one of us. We look at the world around us, as well as within our own selves, and we sometimes see intense negativity, similar to the hate of Billam, which causes people, and sometimes ourselves, to “disregard the standard”, the selfish, destructive forces within ourselves can sometimes propel us to do things that we ourselves understand is “below the standard”, it is below the standard that we set for ourselves, it is below the person we want to be. We feel helpless in the face of the intense urge “to saddle our donkey”, in the service of the negative energy.

Rashi is telling us that Abraham saddled his donkey with intense passion to fulfill the will of G-d. That the Intensity of the Abrahamic love that is within each of us “precedes” the hate of Billam. Although we each have both forces within ourselves, the positive energy of Abraham is our essence, while the negativity of Billam is just an externality which does not define our identity.

By emphasizing that both Abraham and Billam saddled their donkeys by themselves, the Torah teaches us that the way to overcome the negativity of Billam is to awaken and reveal the Abrahamic passion that is within us. The passion and commitment of the Abraham within us will absorb the negative passion, and transform it to fuel which will intensify our commitment to holiness and positivity.  Just as described so poetically in the Biblical story, Billam’s curses were transformed to magnificent and beautiful blessings.



(Adapted from the teaching of the Rebbe, Chukas Balak 1982 - Leku”s Balak vol. 28 sicha 1).

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