Balak

Numbers 22:2 – 25:9

(Balak)
This Torah portion tells the story of a prophet named Bil’am hired by King Balak to curse the Israelites. This prophet-for-hire has an amazing adventure which includes listening to his talking donkey and encountering angels. In the end Bil’am blesses the Israelites with the words “Mah Tovu.”

THE BLESSING

HERE IS THE STORY of our evolution as prophets. The blessing of Balak expands and deepens the place of prophecy in our lives.

In our story, King Balak tries to hire the prophet Bil’am to take a journey to curse the people Israel. Bil’am follows Divine guidance and refuses at first, but then after a second delegation implores him, God advises the prophet to go, but reminds him that on this journey of prophecy, he must listen and respond to the word of God. When Bil’am sets out, God immediately becomes angry.

To receive the blessing of the portion of Balak, we must first solve this mystery. Why would God be angry with Bil’am for promptly fulfilling a Divine request?

The answer unfolds in the amazing story of his journey during which the true meaning of prophecy is revealed. Three times a Divine angel with sword in hand appears to Bil’am’s donkey who obediently changes her course in response. Each time Bil’am, losing his temper, beats the poor donkey with a stick. Finally she speaks to him saying, “What have I done to you that you should treat me this way?” Only then are Bil’am’s eyes opened. He sees the angel his donkey had seen all along, and he bows to the ground. Again Bil’am is told to continue on his journey, but is reminded again to pay careful attention to the word of God.

And now the mystery of God’s “anger” is revealed. God is saying, “You must pay attention to my word as it appears in each step of your journey. My word comes to you through the wisdom of your body (the donkey that has carried you so loyally all these years), through the details of your embodied life, and through all your worldly senses. Here is how I address you now, and not only in dreams or visions.” Through the story of Bil’am and his talking donkey, God expands for us the meaning of prophecy.

WHEN BIL’AM’S EYES ARE OPEN he can really pay attention — and profound words of blessing can flow through him. Three times the flow of blessing and prophecy pours forth, as if to atone for the sin of beating the donkey three times — ignoring the Divine wisdom of the body.

As the flow of prophesy begins, Bil’am falls to the ground, his eyes unveiled. As we touch the earth, honoring our earthiness, and stay true to the word of God as it is spoken through the donkey part of us, then we will be able to transmit visions of goodness and victory to the world.

THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE

ALL OF US ARE BURDENED in some measure with the belief that body and spirit exist as two separate realms. Because this belief is buried so deeply, we may not even know it is there. But it is a lie that exacts a steep price and bars us from touching the fullness of what it means to be human which is to be a “holy animal.”

Often our journey of spirit removes us from the holiness of the body… or our journey of embodiment disconnects us from the vastness of our spiritual reality. Behind these tragic journeys is the lie that body and spirit are distinct and separate worlds. The lie is: if you yearn for one, then the other must be sacrificed.

Through the marriage of body and spirit, prophecy is born. The spiritual challenge of the Torah portion Balak is to listen to the word of God through the voice of the body, through the voice of an embodied divinity that surrounds us in each moment, that permeates our world at each step of our journey. Psalm 95 says, “Hayom: Im b’kolo tishma-u!” Today: If only you would hear His voice! God’s voice is manifest in the Here and Now of the ordinary details of our lives… and we will hear it, if we pay attention.

WE ARE CHALLENGED to receive God’s voice in the sound of this world — in the voice of a friend, an animal, the wind, or the body that has been carrying us so loyally all these years. We are challenged to wake up to whatever has been occurring below our range of awareness, whatever we have dismissed as unworthy or undeserving of our attention. It is there that the word of God must be discerned.

GUIDANCE FOR PRACTICE

Our practices for this week of Balak are designed to expand our awareness of the body, to learn to hear its voice, and to receive its wisdom.

Expanded Awareness Practice

The first practice is dedicated to cultivating an attention for detail. It was given to me by Shoshana Cooper. Because she is a teacher of Tea Ceremony, Shoshana instructed me to make my tea each morning with a special awareness. “Just pay attention to the hand that is NOT making tea.” By bringing our attention to the “other” hand we begin to expand our awareness to include a wider field. It changes the way we move and opens us up to what we would normally miss.

CHOOSE ONE SIMPLE ACTION that you do every day (like making tea).

PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR NON-DOMINANT HAND. Just watch what it does.

NOTICE HOW THIS AWARENESS CHANGES the quality of the action.

ARTICULATE WITH A SPIRIT-BUDDY just how that change manifests in your experience. (See the “Spirit Buddies” page for an explanation of this aspect of practice.)

Body Wisdom Awareness Practice

We become prophets by paying attention, integrating the wisdom of body and spirit, and then dedicating our wholeness in service to the whole and holy.

BECOME AWARE whenever you experience a strong emotional trigger (such as sadness, anxiety, anger, or fear).

TAKE A MOMENT to ask the question, “Where do I feel this in my body?”

INSTEAD OF JUST REACTING to that feeling, stop and investigate its source in the body.

IMAGINE BREATHING IN to the place in the body where the emotion is found.

LET THE EMOTION FORM into a shape, color, texture or image. Ask the body to reveal its truth and wisdom to you through the power of imagination and association while paying close attention to the physical sensations that are triggered by a thought or feeling.


Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land
©2006 Shefa Gold. All rights reserved.