July 25, 2019 – Parashat Balak/ Pinchas

July 25, 2019 – Parashat Balak/ Pinchas

Due to another heavy travel schedule I have missed writing about a number of weekly sections. For this reason I combine two sections that are traditionally not placed together.

The first section to be examined is from last week. It is called Parashat Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9). It is one of the Bible’s more famous sections. In this parashah we find not only the tale of Balaam’s talking donkey but also Balaam’s curse that becomes a blessing. The section reminds us that we often choose not to see (or hear) the blessings that punctuate our lives and that sometimes what appears to be a curse turns into a blessing.

In the case of Balaam it took a donkey to teach him that life is composed not only of our actions but also of the way we choose to react to other’s actions. Balaam was so sure that he was in charge, that arrogance blinded him to reality.

Are we all too often so caught up in our own daily, and often minor, “problems” that we fail to appreciate the blessings that punctuate our lives?


The second parashah to be studied this week is is called Pinchas (Book of Numbers 25:19-30:1). For many this parashah is problematic. The parashah begins with the last verses of last week’s Torah section when Pinchas killed Zimri (the leader of the tribe of Shimon) for having had sexual relations with Kozbi (meaning “voluptuous” in Akkadian) the daughter of Balak, the Moabite king.

At the beginning of this week’s parashah, G’d blesses Pinchas for his zealousness by awarding him His covenant of peace and His covenant of eternal priesthood. G-d’s blessings seem to be more than a bit strange. Should anyone ever be exonerated for having taken another person’s life? Is it possible to argue that Pinchas was not a murderer? Does this section build on the previous one? Does it serve to remind us that before drawing conclusions we need to see all the facts; that we should not make assumptions too quickly? Do these sections have something to say to modern day politicians and members of the media?

Might these two weekly sections be less about individuals and more about the ideals of leadership? In both cases, assumptions are made that are simply false and in both cases decisions must be made that were not popular at the moment.

This week’s Torah portion teaches us that knowledge is never static but always dynamic; that a policy that might be correct for one point in history may be flawed at another point. Are these sections teaching us that wisdom comes about by finding our exceptional qualities, by nurturing creativity, and by recognizing that it is our job to face challenges? What do you think? How do you face the challenges in your life?

YouTubes of the week

Jewish Music from the Balkans

A revival of Jewish life:

In Ladino sung in Serbia:

Jewish Music from Sarajevo:

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