This Week’s Torah Portion Is Parashat Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9)

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This week we study Parashat Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9).

* When you read this week’s parasha, Balaam seems like a great guy. When you study what the Jewish tradition says about him, Balaam seems evil.

* Was Balaam able to talk to God? Were his comments about Israel from God?

* Belief in God does not guarantee that you will do the right thing. Balaam believed in God.

* Balaam uses the intimate Jewish name for God (HaShem). Balaam says “the Lord my God.” Balaam is like those Jews who took up yoga and eastern things and reached out for God those ways.

* Why does God get mad at Balaam for doing what God said he could do (in the second dream)?

* Balak was frightened of Israel because it was numerous. Numbers matter a great deal. If there was no modern state of Israel, there probably would be half as many identifying Jews in the world today. An Israel of seven million people is a much stronger place than an Israel of three million. Similarly, while only one in ten of American Jews are Orthodox, about half the Jews under 18 are Orthodox. Numbers matter. The Orthodox are having more kids. The Orthodox will dominate Jewish life in America and around the world in the years to come in large part because of their numbers and also because of their superior self-sacrifice for things Jewish and superior learning in Jewish texts.

* Balak feared Israel because of what it did to the Amorite. People only fear you if you’ve done something. It’s like that episode of Weeds where the new kid asks who’s the biggest bully in the school and then goes up to the bully and punches him in the face. All respect has a strong element of fear. Don’t expect people to respect you if you haven’t accomplished anything. Don’t expect Jews to respect you if you are not financially secure.

* Balak hired Balaam as a sorcerer (with the ability to bless and curse) but Balaam only ever claimed to be a diviner (one who could foretell the future). It’s weird when you encounter people who believe you can do things that you can’t. It’s fascinating and frustrating when people see you differently than you see yourself. Sometimes they are right.

* Balaam was able to get a lot more coin because he played hard to get.

* What’s wrong with saddling your own donkey? Why did the sages look down on this type of physical labor when done by important people? I’ve had rich bosses who didn’t mind getting dirty and working along with the guys. That helped morale. (Artscroll, p. 860)

* Israel is described by God through Balaam “as a people who dwell apart.”

* Why wasn’t Balaam shocked that his donkey was talking to him?

* These are the most positive things said about Jews in the entire Bible and they are said by a non-Jew. Do Jews take the positive things non-Jews say about them more seriously than they do positive things said by Jews? Many groups have this.

* Balaam saw “no perversity in Israel.” (Num. 23:21) Times have changed.

* Why did the Israelites “commit harlotry” with the daughters of Moab? (Num. 25:1) Didn’t they know that this was not the path to lasting happiness? I too have committed harlotry with shiksas, but now I understand the utter futility of such behavior. It’s only fun for the first few decades and it leaves you feeling empty inside. I’ve seen a lot of orgies on video and while these people may be feeling physical ecstasy, I can tell that their souls are dying.

* Back in 1994, I had a shiksa insist on delivering out loud a prayer to Jesus before she would get with me.

* Artscroll on 25:2: “The Moabite women invited the Jews to feast and drink with them, and when the men became aroused and wanted to cohabit, the women drew their Baal-peor idols from their robes and insisted that the Jewish men bow to them.”

* Why do frum Jews have such an aversion to the word sex? Why all this talk about “relations” and “cohabiting” and other euphemisms? Modern Orthodox Jewish literature is far more prudish than Christian literature. Evangelical Christians just radiate sex. If you go to church, you’ll tend to get hugged by a lot of hot chicks. If you go to shul, you’ll likely be hugged by no chicks. I went to Ohr HaTorah (Reform) for a few years, and one Sabbath after lunch, we sit in a circle and gave each other back rubs. In some ways, those were better days.

* Artscroll on Num. 25:6: “In a shocking exhibit of brazenness, a Jew brought his paramour directly to Moses and the elders at the entrance of the Tent of Assembly and sinned in public view. Moses and the elders wept.” I react the same way when people have sex in front of me.

* Do you lose sleep over what Pinchas did? Sex stirs emotions and illicit sex can lead to violence. Think of all those husbands who lost their mind when they found their wife was unfaithful and murdered her and her lover (and subsequently received reduced sentences because of the adulterous context). All the years I reported on the sex industry, I thought I was walking along a ledge where one side led to madness and death.

* How should a Torah Jew react today when he encounters a saucy Baal-Peor type ho who tries to tempt him into immorality? What kills me is when they stretch themselves out and lie on top of you and mumble, “I’m sleeping. I’m just having a dream. This isn’t real. Whatever happens, we’re just dreaming.” And you start to tell yourself, oh, I’m dreaming. I shouldn’t judge myself too harshly. It’s just a dream. I’ll just go with the flow. And then afterwards, you’re covered in shame.

* As I was studying Torah Saturday night, July 2nd, there were all these goyim nearby setting off fireworks and bothering me. I hope God punishes them for interrupting a Jew’s Torah study.

* What’s the deeper meaning behind all those breasts on HBO shows like True Blood, etc?

* Does “a great place to raise kids” mean “super-segregated” aka few black people?

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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