Parashat Balak-- Numbers 22:2-25:9
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Questions for Young Children

• Do you know a story about a talking animal? Can you tell it? Why is the animal talking?
• Do you think Balaam is a good person? A bad person? Why?
• Should a person ever curse another person?

Questions for Older Children
• Why did the Moabite king, Balak, hire Balaam? What did he want Balaam to do?
• What do you think of  Balaam’s blessing of Israel?
• According to this parasha, how much power do words have? Is there a lesson for us in Balaam’s refusal to curse the Israelites?
• The last part of the parasha relatest how some of the Israelite men sinned with Moabite women and worshipped a Moabite god. What was the punishment?

Questions for Teens and Adults
• How does this parasha connect to the previous parasha? to the upcoming parasha, Pinhas?
• What purpose do you think the talking ass serves in the story of Balak?
• What do you think of a prophet-for-hire?
• What is the result of Pinhas’s actions? Is he a zealot or extremist? What do you think of the switch from the tale of sinning with the Moabite women to the individual man's sin with a Midianite woman?

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Alternative Menu Planning
In this parasha Balaam is sent on an errand but does the opposite of what Balak sends him to do. He is supposed to curse the Israelites, but delivers a blessing instead.

Create a dish with opposite flavors.

  • sweet and sour chicken or vegetables
  • sweet and salty dessert like chocolate brownies topped with salted peanuts

Focus on the parasha’s ending when Pinhas impales an offending Israelite and Midianite woman.

  • impale vegetables or chicken on skewers and grill 
  • add a sweet and sour marinade to your skewered food and you have two talking points
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Parashat Balak illuminates the psychology of the foes B'nei Yisrael faced. This week’s antagonist is the king of the Moabites, Balak, who entreats the well-respected prophet, Balaam, to curse B'nei Yisrael. Balaam refuses after he seeks guidance from God. After a second, more distinguished set of emissaries plead Balak’s case, Balaam again consults God and this time, God tells him to go ahead and agree to Balak’s plea but only to do whatever God commands him. As Balaam is riding his ass headed to the Israelite encampment, the ass swerves off the path three times to avoid the angel of the Lord. Balaam responds by hitting the ass and the third time, the ass turns to question Balaam. Without expressing any surprise, Balaam responds by telling his animal that he has made an ass out of Balaam. The conversation concludes with God helping Balaam see the truth and tells him to continue on his journey and say only what God commands. Balak can’t believe Balaam’s effrontery—twice he blesses Israel in front of Balak and the third time he blesses Israel as he overlooks their camp. Balak is infuriated and Balaam stokes the anger with a concluding poem about Israel’s future that will “smash Moab.” Balak is defeated, but the parasha ends with Israelite men consorting with Moabite women and worshipping their god. The consequence is swift and deadly-- Moshe is ordered to impale the ringleaders and God sends a plague that killed 24,000. It's still not over--   zealot, Pinhas takes it upon himself to kill an Israelite and the Midianite woman who shared his tent .

Find the food connection...

יֶרֶק הַשָּׂדֶה
 "the green of the field"
--Numbers 22:4

Green and field greens!

The Side Dish

Talking donkeys—if you have children at your table, this is the week you’ve been waiting for. It’s fun as long as you’re not Balak. You can dramatize the story, but there’s also room for a discussion about the nature of truth. One of the developmental milestones for children is understanding that a true story and truth may not be the same thing. While Aesop’s fables embed truths within them, it’s unlikely that in Aesop’s time animals spoke. Is the moral of the fable about the ant and grasshopper (be prepared) less true because the ant and grasshopper did not have a discussion in real life? Children are drawn to the p’shat, the simple meaning, and often their questions reflect their struggle with the simple meaning like, what language did the donkey speak?

As adults, we can gently lead our children to the level of d’rash or metaphorical meaning. Whether the donkey spoke Hebrew or Moabite, the more important question is what does the story show about those who want to curse Israel? What does Balaam learn about himself from the donkey’s words? What does the tale tell us about cruelty to animals? Whatever developmental stage your children or grandchildren are enjoying right now, enjoy it along with them, but don’t forget to nudge them along the path toward d’rash --without a stick, of course.



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A Dash of T’filah (Prayer)
The rabbis decided to place verse 24:5, Ma Tovu, in the opening of the Shaharit service because it refers to both ohalekha (your tents) and mishk’notekha(your dwelling places). Hebrew speakers will note the simple noun form of mishk’notekha—mishkan—is the word for the Tabernacle. With the inclusion of both home and places of prayer, Ma Tovu reflects the ideal for the Jew who prays in the morning either in his home or in a designated place of worship. How good are both places!

A Dash of Biblical Scholarship
Both older and contemporary scholars see the Balaam story as a separate entity that was later incorporated into the Torah. In particular, the story of the talking ass is a folk theme common in many cultures. The question that contemporary Biblical scholars and traditional rabbinic sources ask is: why is the talking ass in the story? What does it teach us? I leave that question to you and your Shabbat table.

A Dash of Music
How many tunes do you know for Ma Tovu?
For a humorous Israeli riff on Ma Tovu, check out the video clip on YouTube:
The video includes both an ohel (tent) and a mishkan (sanctuary) along with puppets.  Not included--women.  You can find more serious versions of Ma Tovu as well on the internet. Enjoy singing Ma Tovu at your Shabbat table this Shabbat evening.


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Green Chicken with Greens
Serves 6

Ingredientsrsz balak green chicken with greens closer up copy

  • 2 lbs. of boneless chicken
  • ½ cup Dijon style mustard
  • scant ¼ cup olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 cups bread crumbs
  • 1 cup minced parsley, tightly packed
  • salt and pepper


To make the coating

  1. Sauté garlic in olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Add crumbs and sauté until the crumbs brown.
  3. Mix in parsley and season with salt and pepper.

Preparing the chicken

  1. Clean and pat the chicken dry.
  2. Brush one side with mustard.
  3. Coat the mustard side of the chicken pieces with the parsley mixture and pat firmly so the crumbs stick to the mustard.
  4. Place the chicken with the mustard-crumb side up in a baking dish.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Bake @ 425º 25-30 min.

Serve on a bed of sautéed field greens.

For vegans--You can use the green coating with tofu. Just make sure to drain the tofu well and press it so you extract as much liquid as possible.

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