Lionization: Balak 2018

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: When have you felt threatened? How have you responded to that feeling? In retrospect, do your responses seem justified, or overreactions?

In this week’s portion, the Moabite king Balak hires a prophet, Balaam, to curse the Israelites because Balak sees them as a threat. Even though Balaam recites praises of the Israelites, his words are tinged with foreboding:

The Pitch: “Lo, a people that rises like a lion, leaps up like the king of beasts, rests not till it has feasted on prey and drunk the blood of the slain.” – Numbers 23:24

Swing #1: “The lion is stronger than the lioness. When a Jew first rises in order to serve the Most High he is only like a lioness, but then the Lord will help him (‘the Lord will help him who comes to be cleansed’) and he will rise up strong as a lion.” – Maggid Dov Ber of Mehzhirich

Swing #2: “The poetry in this chapter is powerful and striking. We move from the hopeful king’s lofty ‘mountains of Kedem,’ whence Bil’am was hired, to the disturbing image of the king of beasts feasting on his prey. What began as an attack from above has ended in a blood-feast by the enemy.”  – Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses

Swing #3: “What is more, this people whom Balak fears is stronger than he imagined. … Balak has miscalculated: these people are not an ox eating up the grass of the field; they are a lion ready to attack and devour their prey. Balak cannot defeat them.” – Irene Nowell, Numbers

Late-Inning Questions: Do Balaam’s words say more about the Israelites or about the people that fear them from a distance? Are his words more a statement of fear or reality? What are the best ways to respond when you sense that all hope is lost?

Summer Training: This has been my best week of exercising since I started my health initiative. For me, walking more is dependent on at least one of two factors: purpose (having a specific place to go, not just walking around in circles) and distraction (having something to listen to or talk to while walking).

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of feeling threatened, the legendary Yankees manager Casey Stengel once was asked how he stopped his players from undermining him. Stengel replied that, on any baseball team, there are ten players that like the manager and ten others that don’t, and the trick to surviving is to keep the ten that don’t like you away from the five players who are undecided.

Shabbat Shalom!