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I Don't Want To Hear It -- Chronicle Online/The WORD 06/29/23

Weekly On-line Rabbi's D'var-Torah

June 29, 2023 10 Tammuz 5783 Chukat-Balak

So, I recently went to the grocery store, and I was pleasantly surprised when a store employee actually offered to help bag my groceries. After filling the first bag, the teenager handed it to me and said, “Be careful—this one is filled with your refrigerables and it’s heavy.” I wasn’t sure how to respond. After all, she seemed to be lifting it with minimal effort. Do I seem so feeble that I can’t lift a typical bag of groceries? Should I have told her how much I can, in fact, lift? What do we do when we hear words that we don’t really want to hear? In the second of this week’s two Torah portions, Balak, the major characters all have to figure out how to respond to words they didn’t really want to hear (see Numbers 22). Balak, the King of Moab, sent a delegation of ministers and dignitaries to invite Bilaam—who was some kind of free-agent seer—to come to land of Moab and curse the Israelites. Bilaam checked with God and God said not to go. So, Bilaam was in the difficult position of having to say ‘No’ to a king. He probably wished that he had never heard that offer. When the delegation returned to Moab with Bilaam’s negative reply, Balak heard a word that he never expected to hear—‘No.’ He was in such a state of disbelief that he sent a second delegation of even more impressive dignitaries to ask again. After all, there must have been some kind of misunderstanding. Once again, Bilaam was not happy to receive this invitation from Balak. This time, though, he said yes. Now, it was God’s turn to be upset about hearing unwanted words. God was angry that Bilaam accepted Balak’s second invitation and was now on his way to Moab. So, God sent an angel that only Bilaam’s donkey could see. It caused the donkey to crush Bilaam’s leg into a wall out of fear. So, Bilaam hit the donkey. At that point, God allowed Bilaam to see the angel and caused the donkey to speak. Those were certainly words that Bilaam never expected to hear. But, they got Bilaam’s attention. Bilaam went on to Moab. However, instead of cursing the Israelites, he blessed the Israelites right in front of Balak. Once again, Balak was faced with words he never expected to hear. So, over the course of the story, we get a quite a few different responses to unwanted words. We can ask again, we can change our minds, we can get angry, we can send a subtle (or perhaps not so subtle) message about out disappointment, we can hit someone or something with a stick, or we can do the exact opposite of what the other person expects. In my case, I just said, “Thanks,” and put the bag in my cart. Shalom, RAF.

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