Torah Portion

Balak

בלק

Numbers 22:2-25:9
Micah 5:6–6:8

Balaam Sets His Face Towards the Calf—A Targum Tradition

Balaam Sets His Face Towards the Calf—A Targum Tradition

Targum Onqelos usually offers a straightforward Aramaic rendering of the biblical verse. The Palestinian Targums (=Targum Yerushalmi), in contrast, offer more expansive, midrashic renderings of the verse. Numbers 24:1, in which Balaam looks to the wilderness, offers us a further glimpse into a world with multiple Targumic traditions.

Dr.
Shlomi Efrati
TheGemara.com
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Balaam from “Divinerville”

Balaam from “Divinerville”

In a satirical account, Numbers describes how a local, non-Israelite Transjordanian prophet and diviner is forced by YHWH to bless Israel instead of curse them. Deuteronomy recasts Balaam as a stereotypical Mesopotamian diviner from faraway Aram-Naharaim, making the point that YHWH’s power extends even into the heartland of Assyria.

Dr.
Ethan Schwartz
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“How Lovely Are Your Tents, O Jacob” – Balaam’s Fertility Blessing

“How Lovely Are Your Tents, O Jacob” – Balaam’s Fertility Blessing

Using imagery of tents, gardens, and flowing water—themes associated with love and sexuality in the Bible and the ancient Near East—Balaam’s praise of Israelite women, מַה טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ יַעֲקֹב (Numbers 24:5), also serves as a warning. The Priestly authors, however, invert this blessing to present Balaam as the instigator of the Baal Peor incident.

Dr.
Erica Lee Martin
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Israel’s Earthquake, 8th Century B.C.E.

Israel’s Earthquake, 8th Century B.C.E.

Amos and Zechariah mention an earthquake in the time of King Uzziah. Its effects were uncovered in the excavations at Tel Agol in the Jezreel Valley: It turned the city, fortified for centuries to defend against the Assyrian threat, into a poor squatter town that could not recover.

Nurit Feig
TheGemara.com
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TheGemara.com
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Balaam the Seer Is Recast as a Villain

Balaam the Seer Is Recast as a Villain

The oldest biblical sources see Balaam as a great seer, but as time goes on, biblical texts portray him in an increasingly negative light. The key to this shift lies in Deuteronomy’s attitude to Israel and gentiles.

Prof.
Alexander Rofé
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The Account of Balaam’s Donkey: A Late Polemical Burlesque

The Account of Balaam’s Donkey: A Late Polemical Burlesque

Already in 1877, Marcus Kalisch, one of the first Jewish scholars to engage in the critical study of the Bible, noted that the story of Balaam’s donkey is a late insertion which contradicts the rest of the story, both narratively and ideologically. Indeed, in the main story, Balaam is a prophetic character to be respected, while the supplement lampoons him.

Prof.
Alexander Rofé
TheGemara.com
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Balaam the Seducer of Jews and an Early Christian Polemic

Balaam the Seducer of Jews and an Early Christian Polemic

Ancient Jewish interpreters imagined Balaam as the prototypical Gentile seducer. This trope was used by John of Patmos, the author of the book of Revelation and himself a Jew, to polemicize against his rivals among the early Christians.

Prof. Rabbi
Joshua Garroway
TheGemara.com
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Do Animals Feel Pain? Balaam’s Donkey vs. Descartes

Do Animals Feel Pain? Balaam’s Donkey vs. Descartes

In contrast to Descartes’ theory of animals as automatons, the Torah and rabbinic text express deep concern for animal suffering. One vivid example is the donkey’s rebuke of Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me?” (Num 22:28).

Prof.
Yael Shemesh
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Balak

בלק

Numbers 22:2-25:9

לָקֹב אֹיְבַי לְקַחְתִּיךָ וְהִנֵּה בֵּרַכְתָּ בָרֵךְ

במדבר כג:יא

Here I brought you to curse my enemies, and instead you have blessed them!

Num 23:11

Numbers

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