Office of the Chief Rabbi

D’var Torah: Parashat Balak

Taking lessons in Emunah…from a donkey…

If animals could talk to us, what would they say? 

We actually know the answer to this question – because parashat Balak presents to us a situation in which an animal spoke to a human being. The ‘aton’ – ‘the donkey of Bilaam addressed him’ and said “meh-asiti l’cha ki hikitani ze shalosh regalim – what have I done to you to deserve the fact that you have struck me these three times”. On this single occasion on which an animal has spoken, the one thing that the animal addressed was the cruelty dealt by a human being to it. This is such an important message because it’s not the donkey that wanted us to hear it, it is Hashem via the mouth of the donkey, who wanted to give us this message for all time. 

But there is a further, deeper message incorporated in what the animal said. Rashi highlights the fact that the term ‘shalosh regalim’ is used – ‘these three occasions on which you struck me’. Of course, we associate the phrase ‘shalosh regalim’ with the three pilgrim festivals – Pesach, Shavuot and Succot – on which the nation would descend during temple times to Jerusalem in order to celebrate the festivals there. Therefore, Rashi said that the donkey’s hidden message to Bilaam was: ‘you are intending to destroy a nation – you have no chance whatsoever because they observe the three pilgrim festivals’. 

The message that is being conveyed here is that these three pilgrim festivals represent ‘Emunah’. On these three occasions in the year, farmers would leave their fields behind them, place their trust in God and go to Yerushalayim for a festival. I believe that the donkey was providing an essential message to the Bilaam’s of this world who seek to destroy Am Yisrael’. 

There are many things which preserve us as a nation. There are many true and authentic keys to our continuity, for example, Chinuch – Jewish education, Jewish cultural activity, Jewish food, socialising with Jewish people, a connection with Jewish history, a connection with Jewish suffering, a connection with the state of Israel. All are great keys to the continuity of our faith. But there is one particular key which transcends them all. It is ‘Emunah’.

The ‘shalosh regalim’, the three pilgrim festivals represent faith in Hashem. And the message for us is that the enemies of our people will never prevail for as long as we have Emunah. When we put our trust in Hashem, when we are dedicated to him, when we fulfil the commandments of the Torah which He has given to us – that, more than anything, will preserve the Jewish people. 

You can have countless kiddushes, cultural activities, history lessons, visits to places of Jewish interest around the world, but nothing will preserve us in the way that genuine and deeply-rooted faith in Hashem will. This is something which even a donkey realised – how much more so, therefore, should we all.

Shabbat Shalom.