Take Notice!

The Torah relates that 3300 years ago, the non-Jewish prophet Bilaam was hired by Balak, the King of Moav, to curse the Jewish nation. On his way, Bilaam was continually warned by G-d not to go. Bilaam didn’t dismiss Balak’s request to curse the Jews, and Balak tried to manipulate G-d to allow Bilaam to curse the Jews by offering sacrifices.

The Torah relates that as Bilaam was riding his donkey, the donkey veered off the road when it noticed an angel standing in front of it. Bilaam, who did not see the angel, began hitting his donkey. The third time it happened, the donkey began talking to Bilaam. Bilaam was unfazed by this phenomenon, he actually spoke back to the donkey as if nothing phenomenal was happening.

What prevented Bilaam from being shocked or hide from embarrassment when his donkey spoke to him? In fact, the donkey even spilled the beans that Bilaam had bestial relations with the donkey.

Bilaam was a prophet on the level of Moshe with the potential to use his gift for the good, but Bilaam chose to use it for the wrong purposes.

Once Bilaam was contacted and hired to curse the Jews, he set his focus on that one purpose and no matter what came his way, even the miracle of an animal speaking to him – a miracle that the Mishna says was specifically created in the last moments of creation― didn’t deter him or startle him. This was because his evil focus did not allow him to stop and think.


The human psyche is programmed to get used to the phenomenal and make it feel normal.

Although our set daily prayers and blessings may seem redundant, as we recite the same prayers each day, when one focuses on the words and their message, it reminds us to express our appreciation to G-d for all His gifts, which include the celestial, personal, communal and worldly blessings that are granted to us.

Prayer is an exercise of taking notice, asking and thanking G-d for everything we have and enjoy.

At the funeral of an outstanding and generous individual who lived through the Holocaust, his rabbi related that he once complimented and commended the deceased for praying the Amidah for an extended period of time. He told the rabbi, “Although I have vast holdings which give me the opportunity to support my family handsomely and allow me to dispense large amounts to Tzadakah to help individuals and institutions, I know that it is a gift from Hashem and it can be taken away at any given time. I therefore pray that Hashem continues to entrust me and I will be able take care of it properly.

The first of the two Parshas we read this week speaks of the passing of Moshe’s sister and brother, Miriam and Aaron. Our Sages tell us that the three miraculous gifts G-d gave the Jews in the desert, the Manna, the protective clouds and the water that emerged from the rock were in the merit of Moshe, Aaron and Miriam, respectively.

Like everything else, the Jews became used to these gifts. Yet, towards the end of their sojourn in the desert as they were advancing towards Israel, the Jews sang a song in appreciation of the well that gave water. What spurred them to sing this song? Our Sages tell us that as the Jews were approaching a valley surrounded by mountains, their enemies hid in crevices of the mountains to ambush the Jews. Before the Jews entered the valley G-d clapped the two mountains together and killed the enemy soldiers. When the Jews passed through, they were unaware of G-d’s miracle. It was only after they proceeded further and the well of Miriam which was following them in the back, filled the valley and washed up the remains of the enemy soldiers. It was at that time that the Jews stopped to pause and reflect on the miracle of Miriam’s well and were motivated to express their appreciation to G-d for the miraculous water they received throughout their journey in the desert.


I recently read that when one is faced with a difficulty or with a challenge and it then works itself out, he should give gratitude to the Almighty for both the challenge and solution, for without the challenge we would not be appreciative or even aware of the solution.