Who Is The Donkey And Who Is The Prophet? Warning! Warning! Will Robinson!

Remember this phrase from television many, many years ago? The robot warns Will Robinson that there is danger ahead of them. I offer this same warning today.
It is appropriate to look at this story, since at our Shabbat worship we are sharing all we learn from sharing the world with God’s other creatures.
If you are too easily offended by what is happening in our country and perhaps throughout the world, you might want to skip this Desk, because I am going to share what our Rabbis saw in the story of Balak the Moabite King; of Bilam the Prophet, who blessed Israel with the phrase, “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel”; and of Bilam’s donkey. To the Rabbis the true prophet in this story is the donkey, with Bilam the Prophet as the donkey and Balak as a war-mongering buffoon.

In short, Balak the Moabite King, is afraid of Israel’s growing strength and hires Bilam the Prophet to put a curse on Israel.  Bilam instead asks God what to do and is told to say only what God commands him. As Bilam continues to refuse to curse Israel, Balak becomes angrier and angrier, because he wants Israel cursed and destroyed.
And here is where the donkey comes in.

Bilam is fruitlessly trying to figure out how to keep both God and Balak satisfied. In the midst of this futility comes an epiphany, but not for Bilam the Prophet. He is blind to it. He cannot see that the danger of not following God looms before him. He cannot sense how displeased God has become with him. But someone else can see the danger.

It is the donkey.

The donkey can see the Angel of God standing before him, blocking the road. As the donkey cannot move forward, Bilam becomes more and more irate. The donkey can see what the human seer cannot, and the donkey is enabled to speak as eloquently as the prophet. The donkey is now God’s emissary and sees the danger that Bilam does not.

Just as God has opened the mouth of the donkey, God finally opens the eyes of Bilam, who now sees the dangers facing him if he continues to follow Balak’s warlike inclinations.

We can learn so very much from those animals we share creation with. Just as we can learn how geese work together to fly over vast areas twice every year, how wolves take care of their sick knowing that the strength of the pack is increased when the individual is strengthened and that wolves never abandon their ill, we humans can learn how unconditional love increases personal self-value.


Ignore these lessons at your own peril.

Rabbi Stanley Halpern