December 11, 2018

Rosner’s Torah-Talk: Parashat Balak with Rabbi Joey Wolf

Our guest this week is Rabbi Joey Wolf of the Havurah Shalom congregation in Portland, Oregon. Rabbi Wolf received his BA from Brandeis University in 1973, his MA and ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1979, and an honorary doctorate from that institution in 2005. Additionally, Rabbi Joey also spent two years studying at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Rabbi Wolf Has been serving Havurah Shalom since 1987. He has served on numerous commissions and boards in the metropolitan Portland area, including an involvement with workers’ rights panels for Jobs With Justice, the Metropolitan Alliance for the Common Good (a coalition of faith-based communities and labor unions working on healthcare, livable wage and housing issues), and the founding board of Black Parent Initiative. Rabbi Wolf was recently a member of the national board of Rabbis for Human Rights and serves on the Rabbinic  Advisory Cabinet for J Street.

This Week's Torah portion – Parashat Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9) – features the famous story of the prophet Bilaam, who was sent by the Moabite king Balak to curse the people of Israel. On his way, Bilaam is berated by his Donkey who sees an angel of God blocking the road. Bilaam tries to curse the people of Israel three times (from three different vantage points) and each time ends up blessing them. He then continues to prophesize on the end of days and the coming of the Messiah. Our discussion focuses on the story of the prophet Bilam as a cautionary tale about political sorcery and problematic rhetoric.

Our Previous conversations about Parashat Balak:

Rabbi Barry Dolenger on Bilam as an unlikely hero

Rabbi Steven Bayer on Bilaam’s status as a prophet

Rabbi Eliot Dorff on the questions the parashah raises about divine intervention and free will