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June 16, 2013 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Balak

In this week’s portion, Moabite king Balak tries to pay diviner Balaam to curse the Jews.  God tells Balaam not to.  Instead of leaving well enough alone, Balaam tells Balak’s officials, “Stay here overnight, and let me find out what else [God] may say to me” (Numb. 22:19).  Why does Balaam say this instead of telling Balak’s officials to go away for good?  Doesn’t he know that God won’t change his mind?

Milgrom explains that it in pagan lore the “same ritual procedures are [often] repeated until a favorable omen is received” citing examples from Greeks, Hittites and Arabs.  For example a Hittite anti-impotence ritual was performed three times daily, in the hope that eventually the gods would reward the intended beneficiary.  Thus, “Balaam can sincerely hope that in his second dream he will learn that [God] has changed His mind.”

So what? What’s the Torah’s agenda here?  The Torah is trying to make fun of paganism, saying: those idiots think God can be manipulated into changing God’s mind at the drop of a proverbial hat. But we know better.  God is not fickle, not manipulable by magic.  (On the other hand, there seems to be a certain tension between this view and the idea that ritual and good deeds and so forth matter- but that’s a much deeper discussion!)


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