Listen To The Mocking Bird
Volume 2 Issue 38
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
When you are hit in the face, it is hard to help but notice. Unless, of
course, you wear your ego as a face-guard.
This week, the gentile prophet Bilaam, a man whom our sages say had
prophetic vision equal to if not greater than Moshe, is hired by the Nation
of Moav to curse the Jewish Nation.
At first he is reluctant. Upon hearing the tremendous reward of storehouses
filled with gold and silver, however, he acquiesces and sets out on his
dastardly mission. Then a miracle occurs. An angel, who is seen only by
Billam's donkey, blocks the path. His ordinarily faithful she-donkey tries
to squeeze by the Angel and inadvertently presses Bilaam's foot against the
wall. During this time, Bilaam, unaware of the metaphysical circumstances
that brought about the shift in his donkey's behavior, is incensed. He
strikes the animal three times. Another miracle occurs! The donkey begins to
talk. He carries on a brief conversation with his Master.
"Why did you hit me three times?" asks the donkey
"Because you mocked me! If only there were a sword in my hand I would kill
you!" replies Bilaam.
The donkey continues to plead her case. "Am I not your faithful donkey that
you have ridden on all your life? Have I been accustomed to do this type of
thing to you?"
Bilaam replies meekly in the negative. Hashem opens his eyes and he finally
realizes that an Angel blocked the way.
The human aspect of the incident is perhaps more astonishing than the
miracle itself. How is it possible that the great seer who hears his donkey
speak begins to threaten it with death? Doesn't he realize that a
supernatural event is occurring?
Second, why would he threaten to kill the animal? By doing so he would never
get to his destination. Wasn't that a totally irrational threat?
The episode reminds me of an old yarn by the writer Leo Rosten.
Irving, a wealthy man, walked into a pet shop and inquired about a pet for
his lonely grandmother. "I have the perfect gift," exclaimed the proprietor.
"It's a myna bird that talks Yiddish. It can say up to fifty different
phrases! It will keep you
grandmother company and cheer her when she is lonely."
A week after the gift arrived, Irving, called his grandmother.
"Bubbie, How did you like the bird?"
"Delicious, Irving. I had the butcher fillet it."
"But, Bubbie, that bird spoke Yiddish!" Irving shrieked in horror.
"So why didn't it say something?"
Billam was experiencing the event of a lifetime. He had an angel directly in
his path, and his donkey was actually speaking to him. But he did not
notice. He had his eye focused on one thing. His heart was set on cursing
the Jew's and collecting a handsome fee.
Miracles were occurring all around him but he lost all rational control. He
did not notice. He was only interested in his honor. He would have
slaughtered his donkey on the spot.
Often, events occur that should jar us into rethinking our current
situations. But our minds are set, our hearts are pre-determined, and our
conclusions are foregone. A talking donkey or even a bird for that matter
could not get us to stop and think.
The world around us is filled with miraculous events, some, perhaps, greater
than a talking donkey. All we have to do is listen.