BALAK, THE MOVIE
By Bracha Yael
Balak, this week’s parashah would make a fabulous movie. It’s got it all, tragedy, comedy, a talking donkey, a sword wielding angel and the greatest director of all time, God. It’s Star Wars, Shrek, and The Last Samurai rolled into one.
Let’s Imagine this Movie…
In a Time Long, Long Ago…
HIGH NOON ON A HILLTOP: Balak the King of Moab paces back and forth in his tent. Balak an inept Darth Vader Wanna Be wrings his hands and frets over his powerful new neighbor the Israelites. He suddenly stops, runs out and shouts an order:
“Quick! Bring me that great prophet Balaam! With him I can defeat my enemy. For whomever he curses is cursed and whomever he blesses is blessed!” [Num. 22:6]
In a Land Far, Far Away…
Balak’s messengers played by off off broadway actors, with ill- fitting clothes from a straight to video space cowboy movie, plead with Balaam.
Balaam played by a no name actor in his first big break replies,
“Spend the night while I see what Adonai, the God of the Israelites, has to say.”
MIDNIGHT: GOD DESCENDS IN A CLOUD:
“What’s up with my favorite non-Israelite prophet?”
“Balak wants me to curse the Israelites. Is that okay with you?”
God: “Duh, No!”
NEXT DAY: A second set of dignitaries more numerous and distinguished than the first—played by over the hill stars—say,
“Our King will shower you with gold and silver if only you would curse the Israelites.”
Balaam replies again he’ll have to get Adonai’s blessing.
MIDNIGHT: God: “What does this ensemble cast of washed up actors want?”
God: “Okay, Okay if it means that much to you, go ahead. But, whatever I say, you’ve gotta do.”
SUNRISE: Balaam’s excited about his new gig, especially since work’s been slow lately. His trusty she ass of many years, though, not so much. Mrs. Ed, Mr. Ed’s distant cousin, shakes her mane as if to say,
“Darn. This weekend I was planning on staying home munching on straw and reading a good Donkey novel.”
They start out on their journey.
A FEW HOURS INTO IT: A sword wielding angel suddenly jumps out onto
the road. Mrs. Ed swerves to miss him. Balaam doesn’t see the angel,
beats the donkey and the duo return to a narrow lane with fences on either
MINUTES LATER: The donkey’s startled as the angel appears again. She swerves to miss him and drags Balaam’s foot against the fence. He grabs the reins hard and beats her a second time.
MOMENTS LATER: The menacing angel steps right in front of them. The donkey has no room to move and sits down. Unglued, Balaam curses the donkey and beats her a third time.
Then in a scene right out of Shrek 10: “The Last Sequel, We Promise”, God opens the donkey’s mouth and she speaks to Balaam, “What have I done to you that you have beaten me these three times?”
Still clueless, Balaam retorts,
“You’ve made a mockery of me! If I had a sword, I’d kill you!” [Num. 22:29]
Adonai then uncovers Balaam’s eyes and he sees the adversary standing before him.
In the background, Mrs. Ed cracks,
“Who’s the ass now?”
The angel shouts out,
“If it wasn’t for the donkey, I’d have killed you!”
Balaam drops to the ground and bows.
Let’s Stop the Movie for a Minute. I have some questions:
First, why would Balaam ever think Adonai would agree to have God’s own people cursed? Did he need the gig that bad? Second, why did God say “yes” to Balaam’s request but later send an adversary to stop him? Maybe God’s green light was actually a red light and Balaam blew right through it.
Also, what I find interesting on his journey to Moab, Balaam never notices how his path has narrowed from a road to a lane to finally a spot. And, he never recognizes his donkey’s unusual behavior either. Wouldn’t you think a talking donkey would catch his attention? I know if my cat Oscar starts talking to me, I’m definitely calling Rabbi Lisa.
Back to Our Movie…
HIGH NOON: BALAK AND BALAAM STAND ON A PEAK IN MOAB OVERLOOKING THE ISRAELITES.
“Quick! Curse my enemy!”
“Stay here and let me go out and see what God says.”
Balaam returns, opens his mouth, and lo and behold words of blessings instead of curses fall out.
Balak’s jaw drops.
Instead of firing Balaam, he relocates him to another place and says,
“Ah, this is the spot. You can damn them here!”
Balaam blesses them even more.
Balak jumps up and down like a 3 year old having a fit. Clearly blind as a bat, he whisks Balaam off to a third place to curse the Israelites.
This time Balaam doesn’t even bother to check in with the Big Kahuna. He just lets it rip. Blessing after blessing and before you know it he’s dancing and lip syncing to Mah Tovu.
The veins pop out of Balak’s head. He screams,
“I called you to damn my enemies and instead you have blessed them these three times.” [Num. 24:10]
Balaam catches his breath, shakes his finger and says,
“Don’t get snippy with me Balak. I told you, I couldn’t do anything God didn’t want. It’s right there in my contract. Look it up.”
The Credits Roll…
DVD BONUS FEATURE:
Is there a parallel story between Balak the King of Moab and Balaam the Prophet who he’s hired to damn the Israelites? Let’s think about it. After saying “yes” to Balaam’s mission to curse the Israelites, Adonai tries to stop him three times with a sword wielding angel. Even a talking donkey isn’t enough for him to notice he’s going down the wrong path.
Balak also has sight problems. Balaam agrees three times to Balak’s request to curse the Israelites; but instead, blesses them. Each time Balak demands Balaam to damn his foe; he uplifts them and curses himself.
Adonai has put Balaam before him as an adversary and he’s blind to it. A key plot point though puts them on different paths. God uncovers Balaam’s eyes so he can see his adversary and change his course. God though does not do the same for Balak and leaves him to follow down a doomed path. I find this troubling. Both men seem lost, why does God help one and not the other? I’m not sure there’s a good answer to that question.
Maybe, God doesn’t uncover Balak’s eyes because they’re already open in his upside down world. It’s not that he doesn’t have vision; in fact, he has keen vision; he knows exactly what he wants; to curse the Israelites; and, from start to finish never veers from his course. Maybe Balak the Movie is a cautionary tale on what we seek is what we’ll become. If we choose to curse, we’ll be cursed; and, if we choose to bless, we’ll be blessed.