Balak in a Nutshell


Numbers 22:2–25:9

Balak, the king of Moab, summons the prophet Balaam to curse the people of Israel. On the way, Balaam is berated by his donkey, who sees, before Balaam does, the angel that G‑d sends to block their way. Three times, from three different vantage points, Balaam attempts to pronounce his curses; each time, blessings issue forth instead. Balaam also prophesies on the end of the days and the coming of Moshiach.

The people fall prey to the charms of the daughters of Moab, and are enticed to worship the idol Peor. When a high-ranking Israelite official publicly takes a Midianite princess into a tent, Pinchas kills them both, stopping the plague raging among the people.

Toldot in a Nutshell Genesis 25:19-28:9

Yitzchak and Rivka endure twenty childless years, until their prayers are answered and Rivka conceives. She experiences a difficult pregnancy as the “children struggle inside her”; G‑d tells her that “there are two nations in your womb,” and that the younger will prevail over the elder. Esav emerges first; Yakov is born clutching Esav’s heel. Esav grows up to be “a cunning hunter, a man of the field”; Yacov is “a wholesome man,” a dweller in the tents of learning. Isaac favours Esav; Rivka loves Yacov. Returning exhausted and hungry from the hunt one day, Esav sells his birthright (his rights as the firstborn) to Yacov for a pot of red lentil stew. In Gerar, in the land of the Philistines, Isaac presents Rivka as his sister, out of fear that he will be killed by someone coveting her beauty. He farms the land, reopens the wells dug by his father Abraham, and digs a series of his own wells: over the first two there is strife with the Philistines, but the waters of the third well are enjoyed in tranquility. Esav marries two Hittite women. Isaac grows old and blind, and expresses his desire to bless Esav before he dies. While Esau goes off to hunt for his father’s favourite food, Rivka dresses Yacov in Esav’s clothes, covers his arms and neck with goatskins to simulate the feel of his hairier brother, prepares a similar dish, and sends Jacob to his father. Yacov receives his father’s blessings for “the dew of the heaven and the fat of the land” and mastery over his brother. When Esav returns and the deception is revealed, all Yitzchak can do for his weeping son is to predict that he will live by his sword, and that when Yacov falters, the younger brother will forfeit his supremacy over the elder. Yacov leaves home for Charan to flee Esav’s wrath and to find a wife in the family of his mother’s brother, Laban. Esav marries a third wife—Machalath, the daughter of Ishmael.