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Balak: A Misunderstood King

by Rabbi David Hartley Mark


When people read the Story of Balaam, they always focus on the Talking Donkey. I can’t understand why. The Torah Portion is named after me, King Balak of Moab, and, after all, talking donkeys are nothing unusual. I daresay, Reader, that you may have heard one or two, or several, mainly in politics, which we had in my day, as well, albeit in a minor, less dangerous form. And the fact is that the Donkey showed a great deal more intelligence than either its rider, hapless Balaam, or my several messengers, who keep returning to Balaam and offer him riches, only to be refused. The story reads like a fairytale, which it well might have been.

Let us examine the facts of the tale, eliminating Balaam—yes, yes, I know that he composed a few lines of poetry—quite a few, in fact—but only a smallish fragment made it into your prayerbook:

How goodly are your tents, O Jacob,

Your dwelling-places, O Israel!


Is that it? Is that all? I suppose that it’s a big deal when a pagan prophet’s verse makes it into an ethically monotheistic people’s prayerbook.

When I read it, I asked Balaam, “Why are you praising this pesky bunch of nomadic interlopers?”

“The God of Israel touched my heart,” he replied, getting all moony, “and I was inspired to write poetry on His behalf.”

“Not a great deal of poetry,” I huffed, “and after all, I was the one who hired you.”

“Are you going to pay me, Majesty?” he asked.

Can you imagine—he still believed that I was going to pay him for the non-curse which he did not deliver to the Israelites. The nerve of him!

Dear Reader, I hope that you will listen while I make my case. The fact is that Israel and Moab are related—we were originally produced by that—um—unfortunate liaison between Lot and his daughter. About that I can only say, “The less said, best said.”

Furthermore, Bible scholars, who know a great deal more about these things than I do, believe that the relationship between Moab and Israel was mixed—you either accepted us as neighbors, or you warred against us, often for most confusing reasons. I cannot figure out the points in our mutual history where you oppressed us, especially when we were living in peace. I hired Balaam in the first place because my god, Chemosh, ordered me to curse the Israelites. I think. How can one converse with a god of stone? And didn’t your God inform you not to take advantage of or destroy the weak?

When all is said and done, however, remember that the Torah Portion is named after me—not that foolish, greedy prophet; not the angel (though that would have been nice; I like angels), and certainly not the donkey. It is named after me, and why? Because, in my misguided attempt to curse Israel, I contributed to their legend—that of an unstoppable, eternal people. It’s not as though they will always be right, however. I can only pray to their God that they not oppress other nations.


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OUR RABBI - David Hartley Mark

WATCH RABBI MARK , To Life, L'Chaim #217 - Rabbi David Mark (You Tube)

Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Rabbi David Hartley Mark was born in New York City, and grew up on the Lower East Side, that legendary Jewish immigrant neighborhood, attending Hebrew Day School. He was first from his school, the East Side Torah Center, to attend Yeshiva University High School for Boys—Manhattan. David attended Yeshiva University, where he attained a BA in English Literature, a BS in Bible and Jewish Education, and a Hebrew Teacher’s Diploma (HTD). He spent his third year of college at Bar Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, Israel, where he developed a fluency in Hebrew, and toured around the country. He has also attained a Certificate in Advanced Jewish School Administration from the Hebrew College in Brookline, MA.

David attended the City University of New York Graduate Center, where he earned an MA degree from Queens College, as well as an M.Phil. degree, majoring in 17th Century English, specializing in the work of John Milton, as well as the Romantic Poets. A year teaching Hebrew School in a Reform temple in Brooklyn convinced him of his great love of Judaism, and he began attending the Academy for Jewish Religion, Yonkers, NY, where he was ordained a rabbi in 1980.


He met Anbeth, who was hired as temple secretary the same day he was hired to teach. They were married in 1978. They have two grown children, Tyler and Jordan, as well as a grandson, Aidan.


Rabbi Mark served pulpits in Warren, NJ, Fayetteville, NC, and Portsmouth, NH, in which last pulpit he spent 22 years, a record for that state. Seeking warmer climes, as well as closer family members, he and Anbeth took the pulpit of Temple Sholom in 2009. He also fulfilled a lifetime dream of teaching English at Keiser University in Ft. Lauderdale.  


OUR CANTOR - Javier Smolarz

Cantor Javier Smolarz

Cantor Smolarz comes to us originally from Argentina and via Congregations in various U.S. localities, joining Temple Sholom in September of 2018, where he has been wholeheartedly embraced by the Congregation.  His strong beautiful singing voice is coupled with a great sense of presence and decorum, but with a warm welcoming demeanor - all of which enhances our morning minyans and shabbat and holiday services.



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Sat, July 20 2019 17 Tammuz 5779