Parashat Balak

No Rest(s) For The Wicked

Unlike Jewish prophets, Balaam was merely a mouthpiece for the word of God, not an active participant engaged in transmitting God's message to humanity.

Print this page Print this page

Moses and the other prophets of Israel participate in prophecy: Their words of God are refracted through human thought and experience. Moses at times even argues with God, following the precedent set by Abraham and establishing a pattern that will be followed later by Habakkuk and others. We can view breaks in the text as opportunities for reflection--both theirs and ours.

But Balaam is allowed no breaks for reflection, nor is he changed by his words. How much broader is the vision of the prophets of Israel! What many of us would consider their core message is articulated by Micah in this week's haftarah: "It has been told to you, O man, what is good, And what Adonai requires of you: Only to do justice, and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)

According to the Rabbis, the era of prophecy ended long ago. (The last prophet was Malachi, after the return of the exiles from Babylonia.) But the effect of prophecy continues whenever we encounter the text anew and whenever we engage it and are changed by it.

For Further Reading:

"Prophecy and the Holy Spirit" in The Book of Legends (Sefer Ha-Aggadah), edited by H. N. Bialik and Y. H. Ravnitzky, translated by William Braude (Schocken Books), 472-481.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Lawrence Edwards

Rabbi Laurence Edwards is the rabbi of Congregation Or Chadash in Chicago. In 2005 and 2006 he was in Jerusalem as a faculty member of the Bronfman Youth Fellows. He was the associate national director for Interreligious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee in Chicago.