Chukat-Balak is the kind of parshah that makes you think the ancient Hebrews were dropping acid while codifying the Torah.
The parshah in a nutshell, thanks to our bearded brethren at Chabad…with jokes and off-color commentary by Patrick Aleph:
After 40 years of journeying through the desert, the people of Israel arrive in the wilderness of Zin. Miriam dies and the people thirst for water. G-d tells Moses to speak to a rock and command it to give water. Moses gets angry at the rebellious Israelites and strikes the stone. Water issues forth, but Moses is told by G-d that neither he nor Aaron will enter the Promised Land.
The moral of the story is that even the greatest of leaders have a bad day. I love the fact that God puts up with every whiney complaint that the Hebrews through His/Her way, but the second that Moses gets angry, God punishes him. Totally. Unfair.
Venomous snakes attack the Israelite camp after yet another eruption of discontent in which the people “speak against G-d and Moses”; G-d tells Moses to place a brass serpent upon a high pole, and all who will gaze heavenward will be healed. The people sing a song in honor of the miraculous well that provided the water in the desert.
Here’s some insane Hebrew logic:
Idolatry is bad. God is the only God. However, if venomous snakes are attacking you, feel free to make an idol to them and you’ll be healed, Vatican Miracle-style. I think this might be the wrong religion?
Balak, the King of Moab, summons the prophet Balaam to curse the people of Israel.
Wow. Someone hates the Jews. Shocking.
On the way, Balaam is berated by his ass,
Hahaha…you said “ass”.
…who sees the angel that G-d sends to block their way before Balaam does. Three times, from three different vantage points, Balaam attempts to pronounce his curses; each time, blessings issue instead.
Balaam and I apparently have the same problem: we try to say one thing and the opposite comes out.
The people fall prey to the charms of the daughters of Moab and are enticed to worship the idol Peor. When a high-ranking Israelite official publicly takes a Midianite princess into a tent, Pinchas kills them both, stopping the plague raging among the people.
Murder is justified if it keeps people from gettin’ busy behind a tent. Unless of course you’re David, who had 400 wives and concubines. In that case, you’re a tzadik.
So you get the drift. All of the different elements of this Torah portion have a weirdly made up, hypocritical feel to them. And that’s totally OK with me. I can handle the fact that I am supposed to learn holiness from murderers, talking donkeys, and a God who has messed up priorities. None of this makes any sense. And guess what? Life doesn’t make sense most of the time.
Sometimes, you just have to follow the white rabbit down the hole and see where you end up. So turn on, tune in and drop out…you have my utterly non-rabbinic permission.