The Jewish Chronicle - - JUDAISM - RABBI BARRY LERER

“God opened the mouth of the don­key and it said to Balaam, ‘What I have done to you that you struck me three times?’”

THIS week’s parashah tells the amaz­ing story of Balaam the non-Jewish prophet, who was com­mis­sioned by Balak the king of Moab to curse the Chil­dren of Is­rael. On his way to curse them, God sent an an­gel to con­front him.

The To­rah tells us that whereas Balaam could not see the an­gel, his don­key could and tried to veer out of the way. Balaam was frus­trated with the don­key and hit it three times. The don­key mirac­u­lously spoke to Balaam and re­buked him for his lack of ap­pre­ci­a­tion for all that he had done for him. Not sur­pris­ingly, Balaam, was stunned.

The Midrash teaches us that if Balaam was un­able to an­swer his don­key, how much more will we feel speech­less and ashamed be­fore God on the fi­nal Judg­ment Day.

Rashi tells us that the don­key died im­me­di­ately af­ter this in­ci­dent be­cause God felt that it would be too dif­fi­cult for Balaam’s dig­nity were it to stay alive, as people would say “There goes the don­key that re­buked Balaam”.

But had the don­key re­mained alive, it would surely have served as a re­minder to any­one who saw it and would cause them to mend their ways in or­der to avoid the em­bar­rass­ment of their fi­nal Judg­ment Day. Was it worth killing the don­key just to spare the evil Balaam’s dig­nity?

Seem­ingly, the an­swer is yes, and in do­ing so, God is teach­ing us a very im­por­tant les­son about how care­ful we have to be when it comes to other people’s hon­our. Even some­one who would go so far as to curse the cho­sen people of God de­served to have their hon­our in­tact, even if it meant for­feit­ing the chance of teach­ing the world an im­por­tant les­son. How much more so should we go out of our way to give hon­our and re­spect to ev­ery­one, both en­e­mies and friends.

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