Sedra of the week: Balak

Sedra of the week: Balak

Rabbi Jeff Berger looks ahead to this week's portion of the Torah

Parshat Balak introduces Balaam, who according to the Babylonian Talmud was one of seven non-Jewish prophets, born circumcised and given spiritual powers, so non-Jews could have a prophet of the stature of Moses.

Although Balaam and Abraham were of different generations, separated by more than 300 years, Pirkei Avot 5:19 curiously compares their character traits.

Students of Abraham see with a “good eye, are humble and altruistic”. Those following Balaam are the opposite; “evil-eyed, arrogant and avaricious”.

Rashi also draws a comparison between the Sacrifice of Isaac and Parshat Balak: Abraham rose early to saddle his donkey to take Isaac to Mount Moriah, and Balaam saddled his donkey early on his way to curse the Israelites.

Rabbi David Fohrman of AlephBeta notes several other similarities – both take two lads with them and both had contact with an angel along the way.

More poignantly, God promised Abraham, “those who bless you will be blessed and those who curse you will be cursed” (Gen 12:3). Balaam is described as someone with the power to curse or to bless.

What do we make of these similarities? One lesson may be that more important than the gifts we’re endowed with is the way in which we use them. When we set out to create a better world, our efforts will be aided. So too, regrettably, for those who wish to do the opposite.

In our troubling times, it’s up to us to set a positive example.

Jeff Berger is interfaith adviser for Mitzvah Day and can be contacted at

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