Balak, the parasha that was a precursor to Mr. Ed, has a serious message delivered by a talking donkey — one of the three protagonists of the short story. Balak, the king of Moab, fears that the people of Israel are finally on their way to enter the promised land. He requests a regional prophet, Bilaam, to curse the people since “they are too numerous for me; perhaps I can thus defeat them and drive them out of the land.” While instructed by God not to go on the mission, Bilaam is lured by Balak’s flattery and financial enticement. The third protagonist is Bilaam’s talking donkey who perceives, better than the prophet himself, the presence and intent of God. The story unfolds in such a way that each time Bilaam attempts to curse the people of Israel, a blessing comes from his mouth instead.
For far too long we have cursed a group of people who should be blessed. Because of a passage in Torah that is purported to be the will of God, homosexuals – and by extension anyone who has a sexual orientation that is not that of the heterosexual majority – have been discriminated against, persecuted, assaulted, murdered and driven to suicide. This despite one core passage of Torah teaching that each human being is created in the image of God, and another that we are meant to live through practice of mitzvot.
Sadly, too many people hide their fears and prejudices behind words of Scripture, no matter what their faith. “Marriage has always been between one man and one woman” they say, even though it is clear that in both Judaism and Islam, a man can marry as many women as he can afford to support. (The rabbis only restricted this to monogamy one thousand years ago.) The definition of marriage has changed throughout the course of human development, including within religious traditions. Moreover, we live in a society with a secular, not religious, government, which should be looking after the welfare of all its citizens. It was this concept of putting the value of equality ahead of the law that led the US Supreme Court to its historic decision last week that sexual orientation shall no longer be a hurdle to marriage.
As Jews, we are moved by the words of the prophet Micah, whose teaching is read on this Shabbat. Micah teaches simply: “God has told you, human, what is good and what is required of you: to do justice, to act with lovingkindness and to walk humbly with God.”
To do justice requires providing all members of society with equal rights — a clear principle in Torah. To act with lovingkindness means to be kind and respectful to those who are different than you (as in love your neighbor like yourself). To walk humbly with God means to know that just because something is written, it is not necessarily so — one must always consider how one’s words and actions affect another divine being.