Parshat Balak: Opening Ourselves to Learning What God Wants
Over the last few weeks, the prophets have faced significant challenges in the Torah portions that we have read. Miriam and Aaron spoke lashon hara (derogatory speech about another person) about Moses. Last week, Moses hit the rock instead of speaking to the rock and is thus excluded from entering the Land of Israel. This week, we are introduced to a new prophet, Bilaam, who is hired by King Balak to curse the Jews. Moses, Aaron and Miriam are clearly extraordinary people who had momentary lapses. But all we know about Bilaam is that he took the big pay day while still only prophesying what God revealed. This story certainly raises these questions: who can hear the word of God; what qualities do those people have; and why does God choose a particular individual?
My short answers are: anyone; all sorts good and bad people; and that is a great question.
Anyone can hear the word of God. The Tanach (bible), which speaks of many prophets, makes it clear that they can be rich or poor, Jew or non-Jew and possess varying degrees of morality. The qualities of these people vary from exemplary human beings to pretty normal and even petty people.
I actually think that God doesn’t choose prophets but rather prophets choose to hear God. The idea of modern day prophets does scare me as people try to twist God’s words to fit their purposes. However, I do think that it is instructive to believe that any of us can understand what God wants. My grandfather, Macey Capin (of blessed memory), used to remind us, “That which you see every day you see not at all.” I think that people can see God’s imprint on the world by not taking things for granted and experiencing the miracle of creation daily. In doing so, these people are able to see both what needs to be done and the moral responsibility to take action through words and deeds.
I find the story of Bilaam encouraging. Any one of us can understand what God wants if we open ourselves to learning. What determines what type of people we are is whether we bother to listen and whether and how we choose to act on that information. Shabbat Shalom!