Parashat Balak 5778
Shrek’s Donkey, Harry Potter, and the Power of Humor
Have you seen the Shrek movies? Did you enjoy watching the talking donkey, Shrek’s best friend?
Have you read or seen the Harry Potter series? Do you like the mysteries of the wizard world?
If you enjoyed the personality of the talking donkey and the world of the wizards, you may find this week’s parashah very interesting.
Why? Because in one of the chapters of Parashat Balak there is a wizard and a talking donkey. Hundreds of centuries before the Shrek movies and the Harry Potter series were produced, we have in our Torah both worlds in one story.
The Torah tells us that King Balak wanted to put a curse on the Israelites, and he hired the great wizard of that time, Balaam, to accomplish his goal. Balaam headed off on his donkey, but an angel of God, with his sword drawn, was blocking the path.
The donkey saw the angel of God stationed on the road with his sword drawn in his hand; so, the donkey turned aside from the road and went into a field. Balaam beat the donkey to get it back onto the road. The angel of God stood in a path of the vineyard, with a fence on this side and a fence on that side. The donkey saw the angel of God, and she was pressed against the wall. She pressed Balaam’s leg against the wall, and he beat her again. The angel of God continued going ahead, and he stood in a narrow place, where there was no room to turn right or left. The donkey saw the angel of God, and it crouched down under Balaam. Balaam’s anger flared, and he beat the donkey with a stick.
God opened the mouth of the donkey, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you that you have struck me these three times?”
Balaam said to the donkey, “For you have humiliated me; if I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”
The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden since you first started until now? Have I been accustomed to do this to you?”
Balaam said, “No!”
Then the LORD uncovered Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, his drawn sword in his hand; thereupon he bowed right down to the ground.
In this story we have three characters: the wizard, the talking donkey, and God’s angel. And the donkey, an animal, could see what the most powerful wizard in the world couldn’t see!
The talking donkey of Shrek 2 says, “You know, in some cultures, donkeys are revered as the smartest of animals, especially us talking ones” (“Donkey” in Shrek 2, DreamWorks, 2004). Is the donkey referring to the Torah? Maybe it is a coincidence, but we can affirm that the donkey of the Torah is very smart!
This is a very different story compared to other stories from the Torah. We may affirm that it is the only humorous story or comedic passage in the five books of Moses and that it is the precedent of the cartoons and other humor-ironic stories.
Try to imagine this story like a cartoon or a scene of a movie. Isn’t it in the same vein?
We can say that the Torah is a source of different kinds of narratives that were developed throughout history.
The humor and irony involved in this story leaves us a very deep and powerful message. I believe that when you hear a story with humor, you receive it in a more positive way than when you hear speeches full of warnings and reproaches. A story narrated with humor has a very powerful chance to be heard with joy and an open heart.
Without a doubt, the use of humor can be a very powerful tool for transmitting the wisdom and values of our tradition. Humor is part of our history.
Dr Eileen Warshaw (executive director of the Jewish Heritage Center in Tucson, Arizona), stated: “Humor is such a critical part of our heritage. If we haven’t laughed, we would have gone”.
We can learn from the way that this story was narrated in the Torah that we should communicate with our people with more humor, joy, and happiness than harsh, negative, and difficult words. Having a sense of humor and joyfulness is a great tool to communicate with children as well as with adults. In addition, humor keeps alive our spirit.
So, let’s have in mind the humor of the talking donkey from our Torah and Shrek movies!