Friday, July 06, 2012

Parashat Balak: A Gd called Mammon

By Michael Hirsch

In this week's Torah portion, Balak, we have the famous story of the non-Jewish prophet, Bila'am, and his donkey enroute to the king of Moab, Balak, and encounter the Satan along the way. The donkey sees Satan; Bila'am does not. One must ask, of course, how is it that a supposedly wise man cannot see Satan, but his donkey can?!

I believe we have to delve further into Bila'am's psyche in order to explain the unexplainable. Time and again, we see references to wealth—gold, silver, riches—being proffered to Bila'am by Balak and his agents in order to induce him to make his services available. At one point, in fact, Bila'am adapts an air of false modesty and proclaims that even if Balak were to offer him a house full of silver and gold, he Bila'am could not perform counter to G-D's wishes. The clear implication being—try it, give me unlimited wealth; maybe I can overcome G-D's wishes.

The dialogue is rife with references to a line made famous by Cuba Gooding, Jr.: "Show me the money!" Bila'am had a one-track mind—money, wealth, riches. As the saying goes, he had dollar signs in front of his eyes.

So, when G-D finally grants him permission to go to Balak, all he can see are those dollar signs, in a manner of speaking. He is blinded to the real world. He is so focused on attaining wealth, the Satan can be standing in front of him, and he cannot see him. An animal, yes; Bila'am, no.

Turn to the present: examine yourself, family, friends, and society as a whole—how many of us are in the grasp of the god Mammon? How many of us interpret the Golden Rule to be: he who has the gold rules? How many of us are blinded to reality, as was Bila'am, to the degree that matters of substance pass us by, and we are totally oblivious to them?

Think about it—do you rule your money, or does your money rule you?!?!
Shabbat Shalom

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