The original debut of a talking donkey occurred not in the movie Shrek, but in this week’s Torah portion. Baalam-the-prophet was on his way to curse Bnai Yisrael, at the order of the Moabite King Balak. Balaam’s donkey drove quite frantically on the road in efforts to avert collision with an angel who was holding a sword. In response to his roller coaster of a donkey-ride, Balaam hit the donkey at each abrupt stop. After the third strike, Balaam’s donkey began to speak. The donkey berated Balaam for striking her. After all, she had constantly been there to support Balaam and take him wherever he needed to go. Balaam responds that he struck her because she mocked him. He went on to say that if he had a sword in his hand he would have killed her (Bamidbar 22:29).
The Midrash in Numbers Rabbah 20:14 explains that the reason God enabled the donkey to speak was to prove to Balaam that the mouth and the tongue are in God’s power. However, Balaam was not phased by his own donkey having the power of speech. It is only when God opened up Balaam’s eyes to see the presence of the angel with the sword, that Balaam bowed his head and fell on his face. Even that experience did not stop Balaam from attempting to curse Bnai Yisrael. It is only when God changed his words into a blessing, “How great are your tents, Oh Yaakov,” (Bamidbar 24:5) that Balaam finally realized that God was in control. Are there times where we are so focused on a mission that we miss important clues along the way? What sounds and sights serve as our angels to re-direct us? Let Parashat Balak be a reminder of the importance of staying in-tune with all of our senses in the journey of life.