Most people who recall the Torah portion of Balak remember best the episode of the donkey that speaks in human language. Generations of Sunday school students have giggled over the story of the “talking ass” found in the Bible. (Mostly in order to be able to say “talking ass” in Sunday school and not get in trouble).
The basic story is this-King Balak of Moab fears the Israelites, and so he hires a magician named Bilaam who is known for laying on pretty effective curses on one’s enemies, for money, of course. Bilaam is hired to curse the Israelites and journeys to Moab (during the journey is the episode of the talking ass) but when he opens his mouth to curse, instead he ends up blessing the Israelites, much to the frustration of his client, who fires him.
There are many beautiful teachings that the Sages discovered in this comical story. At one point, King Balak brings Bilaam to the mountain top where, in the words of the Torah, he will be able to “see a portion of the people”. The Hasidic Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Kotzk comments-Such is life. Each of us is only an individual- a “portion” of a people. Yet, if we can combine, when we combine, we can create an extraordinary community- a place of holiness and tzedakah.
May this be so.