A donkey doesn’t have the grace of a horse, the height of a camel, or the personality of a dog, but has a well-earned reputation as a short, graceless, dull beast of burden, only useful for the simple task of carrying heavy loads. Yet in this week’s Parsha we learn that even this lowliest of creatures could see the angel of God where Bilam, one of the greatest prophets could not! This simple beast had maintained a basic moral clarity and could identify an angel when it stood in front of him. His master, despite all his fame, wealth and glory, had been eager to use his Divine talents for the worst possible means. Bilam had lost his moral compass, his ‘vision’. All his amazing prophetic abilities became useless the moment he chose to utilise them for evil. Having sold his values, Bilam could no longer see the angels guiding his path.
The story of Bilam’s donkey has never been more relevant. It serves as an annual reminder of how we should go about choosing our leaders and role models. We must never be blinded by ‘celebrity’ status. Rather, we must judge each person by their character, their moral standards, and their efforts to make the world a better place. Because any human being who chooses to violate basic standards of moral decency, (even if they have reached a level of prophecy comparable to Moses himself) is inferior to a donkey.
As parashat Balak is approaching this Shabbat, may we all be able to maintain our moral clarity, and perceive the angels along the way!