A Taste of Torah is a devotional study through the five books of Moses by well-respected Hebraic teacher Keren Hannah Pryor. For more readings from the Torah, please visit HIS-ISRAEL website: his-israel.com/torah-portion/
NUMBERS – B’MIDBAR
07/05 Balak – Balak Numbers 22:2–25:9; Micah 5:6–6:8
07/12 Pinchas – Phineas Numbers 25:10–30:1; 1 Kings 18:46–19:21
07/19 Mattot – Tribes Numbers 30:2 – 32:42; Jeremiah 1:1-2:3
07/26 Ma’asei – Journeys Numbers 33:1–36:13; Jeremiah 2:4–28, 3:4, 4:1–2
Although the parasha this week is named after Balak, it is more accurately the story of Balaam. The importance of Balaam’s story is underscored in the Hebrew Scriptures. It also is referred to numerous times in the Brit Chadasha (New Testament).
There are amazing connections between the beautiful haftarah reading from the prophet Micah and the Torah portion. In his time Micah denounced the corrupt, indulgent and luxurious lifestyle of many of the wealthy. He admonished all the people, no matter their status, to focus on what was significant and lasting in the light of eternity—their relationships with God and their fellow man.
Micah lists the examples of the Israelites deliverance from Egypt and the repercussions of the plot against them that was spearheaded by Balak, the king of Moab, and Balaam, the famed soothsayer-prophet of Mesopotamia. The Israelites had requested passage through Balak’s land. In his unreasonable opposition to them, the king calls for Balaam, whose incantations and curses are known never to fail. He implores Balaam to curse the Israelites that he might overcome them. In effect, he is challenging the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—the eternal King. In response, God intervenes and turns the curses into blessings.
En route, in answer to Balak’s call, we read the famous account of Balaam’s angry conversation with his donkey and his encounter with the angel. God may allow us to go ahead in our own designs and arrogance, contrary to His will, but then He may “hem us in,” narrowing our options until we are forced to hear Him. The angel of the Lord says in verse 32: “I have come to hinder you.” Sometimes it is not people or circumstances that stand in our way, it is God Himself, working to get our attention!
The righteous Phineas was introduced when the portion of Balak concluded on a dramatic note. Twenty four thousand Israelites had died as the result of the plague; something had to be done. In the face of an outrageous act of immorality and idolatry, Phineas acted. He raised a spear and slew the Israelite and the princess of Midian as they were fornicating before the Holy Place of the Tabernacle in a blatant profanation of the Name of God. Is a radical act like Pinchas’ accepted as an ideal in the eyes of God? He obviously does not encourage random violence, even as a stand for ‘right’. However, as we see in the first verse of this week’s portion, God confirms that Pinchas’ action is indeed righteous when He establishes a covenant of peace with him.
We learn that peace is God’s reward for righteous action and not an isolated end in itself. An inherent danger is present when peace becomes an idol with the slogan: “Peace at any price.” True and lasting peace cannot be achieved by means of any humanistic, man-made agenda established outside of the context of the Word and will of God.
The portion concludes with the appointment of Joshua as Moses’ successor. Joshua had served Moses faithfully throughout the wilderness journeys. He had always been at his side, assisting, watching, and learning all that the Lord was teaching Moses. He was the ideal disciple. Nevertheless, when the time came to appoint his successor, Moses didn’t assume the obvious, but looked to the Lord to “set a man over the congregation” (27:16). Only He who truly knows “all flesh” is qualified to appoint a shepherd for His sheep (v.17). Immediately the Lord confirms the appointment of Joshua, “a man in whom is the Spirit”(v.18). He instructs Moses to lay his hand upon Joshua in the view of all the people and to honor him in their sight (v.19, 20). Joshua’s life indeed bore witness that he would continue to lead the people in the Spirit of the Lord, according to the truth and instruction of His Torah, as Moshe did before him.
The third portion: Mattot. The Hebrew words most commonly used in the Bible to designate a tribe, as in the tribes of Israel, are shevet and mateh – mattot in the plural form. Both words have primary meanings of staff, stick and rod (which carry connotations of authority) and, by extension, branch. This last meaning emphasizes that each tribe is a branch of the larger whole. Each has its unique role to play in fulfilling the mission of the entire nation. In similar vein, Yeshua declared, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing [of eternal worth] (Jn. 15:5).
In answer to God’s call, our highest goal should be to live our lives as vessels for the expression of His will and truth wherever He chooses to place us and to encourage one another to work together in unity, as branches of the same holy Vine – indeed, “to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil.2:11).
July concludes, as does the book of Numbers, with Massei, Journeys. The portion begins with an overview of the journey of the Israelites through the wilderness. In chapter 33 one is struck by the rhythmic repetition of the words, “they journeyed” … “they camped.” These words, echoing movement, are reiterated forty-two times in the Torah. Every word, indeed every letter, of the Scriptures is God-breathed (as Paul affirms in 2 Timothy 3:16), and carries life and meaning. Sages of old and Bible scholars through the centuries have discovered that every detail is important.
Consider the details described in 33:9 – twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees. Certainly there are various possible meanings. In the context of our portion and a central theme of the whole Bible is that of a journey; our life journey. The clue is the number 70, which correlates with a life span of “threescore years and ten” (Psalm 90:10). The number 12, in relation to this, corresponds with the months in a year. Each year marks a milestone in our life’s journey. It is “this” journey that is of ultimate importance in the eyes of our Father in heaven.
Do we walk through the cycle of our years according to His Word and direction? Like any successful journey, it requires effort, preparation, focused attention and, sometimes, a sacrifice of our personal comfort. He assures us, however, as is illustrated in the book of Numbers, that He is with us every step of the way.
As is customary to say at the conclusion of the study of each book of the Torah:
“Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazeik!”
Be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen one another (in His Word)!