Part 1 of 4 in this week’s “How a Jew Gets Screwed for Eternity” series.
It’s the end of Numbers and the Israelites are wrapping up 40 years of serious wandering, during which they’ve taken down a king or two. Meanwhile, as they travel east of the Jordan River, King Balak of Moab begins to get worried, so he calls Balaam, a well-known diviner and one of seven non-Jewish prophets, for help.
King Balak requests a curse on Israelites, and though Balaam declines, he is eventually won over by the promise of exultation. But there’s a hitch: As Balaam travels to curse the Israelites, God sends an angel to imbue his donkey with the power of speech. The donkey—long story short—tells Balaam that he’ll only be able to speak what God relates.
But evil finds a way: Balaam explains that he is unable to curse the Israelites himself, but councils King Balak on how he can get the Israelites to curse themselves by offering prostitutes and unclean food. And it’s because of this, that Balaam forfeits his share in the World to Come.
The rabbis say that Balaam possessed the gift of knowing the moments during which God was angry. They describe him as “blind in one eye” and “lame in one foot.” And FYI, you can spot his disciples pretty easily. They’ve got “an evil eye, a haughty bearing, and an avaricious spirit.”
» Quiz yourself on the Torah portion
» Check out the Balaam legend in full
» Read about the non-Jewish prophets
» Study the Balaam-Balak relationship