Torah Study Notes 7-7-12

July 7, 2012
P. 1054
This is the ending of the story of Balaam (pronounced “BIllam”)and Balak. It is a pericope which is a passage from a book selected for reading. See Essays, pp. 1061-1064 and Gleanings, 1065-1067.
23:13 Balaam was supposed to curse the Israelites but instead blesses them.
23:16: “picked up his theme” is likely a colloquial expression. LL: It sounds like he is picking up a musical instrument. This is the word “mashal” in Hebrew which is sometime translated as parable. PG: This is like a scene from The Exorcist” – Balaam may be in a trance like state and he becomes a vehicle for God’s voice. See the Woman’s Commentary p. 945 “indicative of wisdom sayings that have a particular message.” From p. 1050 to 1059 is treated as a single block – there is nothing in the Torah indicating poetry – such is done here by the indentations. The Talmudic sages comment on the authorship of scripture gives Moses credit for the story of Balaam as well. This section is thematically alien in that it does not directly involve Moses and Israel. Israel is only a passive entity on the edge of this account. The oracles of Balaam have been found by archeologists in an 8th C BCE stone tablet. See p. 939 of the Woman’s Commentary. PG: It is believed that much of the Torah – assembled in the post exilic period 550 to 500 BCE – was based on pre-existing material. This is good evidence of that. The group of Israelites that embraced this pre-existing material were aware of other cultures and other gods worshiped by those cultures. The “god” referred to here is not believed by the protagonists to be the God of Israel – rather it is el shaddai – the powerful one. It is the reader who inserts the God of Israel. PG: I have assisted in two cases involving an exorcism. The person who believed they were being possessed had to feel that they were authentically cleansed. They had to believe so it was necessary to have a convincing ceremony followed by therapy. AF: the people had a concept of the priestly class and their functions that was a residue of their experiences in Egypt. They were used to and accepted a certain amount of conjuring and what we would consider the behavior of a charlatan. PG: Because of this history it was much easier, and more comforting, for the people to accept the notion of multiple gods rather than one God. Hence, they proceed in fits and start with considerable back-sliding. CL: This is all very different from what we have previously read and also more constructed, more literary. Even the choice of the names – starting with the sound of “b” which elicits a smile or a laugh. PG: Balak and Balaam come across as two different types of fools. They persist after multiple failures and are not capable of figuring out what needs to be done or taking the next step. CL: There are Greek and Roman stories of The Golden Ass. See:
PG: Martin Hengle ( and certain anthropologists believe that there was considerable communication as to thoughts and systems from cultures ranging from India to the Greek Islands. Plato might not have known the name of Buddha but was clearly aware of Buddhist thinking.

24:1 Note the lines that are used for entering the sanctuary for worship. This is the only place they appear and they come out of the mouth of a non-Israelite. This is part of his 4th prophecy. PG: This is an extraordinary polished tale. LL: And very difficult to understand.

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1 Comment

  1. ibritter

     /  July 14, 2012

    All very confusing, but wow Rabbi, you assisted in two exorcism cases! Got to hear more about that someday!


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