I was driving early morning with my daughter in the car, on the way to the bus that would take her to camp. Traffic slowed as we approached a highway intersection. Intermittently the driver behind me would beep her horn and shake her head with exasperation. I wondered where she thought I could go. I did leave a nice space between me and the next car, but wasn’t going any slower than the rest of the traffic. Did she think that if I filled that space, we’d all move faster? As she continued to shake her head and beep her horn, she reminded me of Balaam. In this week’s Torah portion, Balaam gets frustrated when his donkey goes off the path and then won’t move. He strikes the donkey. He beats the donkey; the donkey won’t move. No matter how hard this woman beeped her horn, traffic didn’t speed up.
When are the times in life that we are beating a donkey that won’t move? When are we frustrated trying to make something happen and no matter what we do to influence events, it still doesn’t happen?
Balak the King of Moab has sent Balaam to curse the Israelites. Balaam at first refuses explaining that he can only say the words that God gives him to say, but after Balak persists, Balaam agrees to go. Though God in one verse tells Balaam to go, in the next verse God is angry that Balaam is going and sends an angel to block the donkey’s path. Balaam can’t see it, but the donkey isn’t moving because there is an angel of God in its way.
I started to wonder, what if we were to imagine that it was an angel blocking us from making something happen? How might that alter our perspective? What if it was symbol if goodness, or divinity that stood between us and what we expect to happen, how might that change our perspective on moving forward? What if all we had to do was we open our eyes, as God will do to Balaam, and we could see ahead, and see some sort of good where before we only saw frustration. How many of life’s challenges and disappointments might we face differently if we could also imagine good or divinity where we otherwise only saw obstruction?
God opens the donkey’s mouth, and the donkey tells Balaam that he can’t move because there is an angel in the way. Only then does God uncover Balaam’s eyes, so that Balaam can see the angel. I wonder if our animals, or our vehicles could talk, what might they tell us that we can’t notice for ourselves?
When are we so certain of ourselves and our expectations, that we too can only see the obstacle and not the possibilities? When are we only seeing what’s wrong with a situation, and not imagining the good that might be hidden in the situation as well? When in our lives could we benefit from opening our eyes and trying to see the good that might be part of what is thwarting our immediate goals?
So often we think that we need to do step 1, step 2 and step 3, in order to go from where we are towards our goal. When one of the steps breaks down, we get frustrated. We are in traffic, and can’t drive through the other cars to reach our destination. But what if we need only to uncover our eyes, and see that there are more possibilities, more ways of imagining the problem and its solution?