Esther Goldenberg
Esther Goldenberg

Do You Have a Talking Ass in Your Life?

Once there was a king named Balak. Balak lived in the land of Moav. He had heard word of a people who had come out of Egypt and become mighty, and he was afraid that these people would overpower his own.

So he made a plan.

Balak sent word to Balaam ben Beor to come and curse these people, the Children of Israel. Balaam said he couldn’t do it, not for all the gold and riches that Balak was offering, or even for more. Balaam explained that he could not curse those that God has blessed.

But Balak said Balaam should sleep on it. Maybe he’d have a different opinion in the morning.

In fact, when morning came, Balaam hadn’t fully come around, but agreed to go with Balak’s people to the Children of Israel, even though he didn’t commit to cursing them when they got there.

Balaam saddled his ass and rode toward the Israelites’ camp. Along the way, an angel stood in the path with a sword to smite Balaam. Balaam didn’t see the angel, but his donkey did. The donkey turned off the path for a safer journey.

Balaam was angry at his donkey and hit her. She returned to the path, but the angel came again. This time they were riding by a vineyard, and in order to save Balaam, the donkey veered to the side, bumping Balaam’s leg on the vineyard’s fence, and receiving another beating for doing so.

Further along the path, the angel came for a third time. This time, the path was narrow, and there was no way for the donkey to go around. In order to save her rider from the sword, the donkey laid down in the path and refused to move forward. And she received another beating from her rider.

With this, God gave the ass the ability to speak. She said to Balaam, ‘Haven’t I been reliable to you for many years? Why are you beating me?’ And God opened Balaam’s eyes so that he could see the angel with the sword at the ready that the ass had always seen.

And before I tell you what happened next, I want to ask you these questions:


Balaam couldn’t see what was right before his eyes. We might consider angels hard to see, but I would like to propose that in a story where a donkey can see the angel, it’s plausible that the human could have, too. Yet Balaam was missing this.

And I think we all fall into this accidental blindness sometimes. We set our mind to a path, maybe one that on the inside didn’t feel just right to begin with (or maybe it did), and we follow the path. One foot in front of the next.

As we go along that path, we get annoyed when something derails us. We have our minds set on the destination. Or on the journey we’re expecting. Or maybe the thing we’re going to do next. So we see these other things that crop up as road blocks or hindrances, when maybe they’re little gifts trying to get us to go the right way. We lash out and become our own biggest obstacle.

When we get too absorbed on this wrong path, we don’t question it. We just keep going. And we get used to keeping going. And we go some more. And it takes something as surprising as a talking ass to wake us up from autopilot so that we finally look up and correct course.

Now, this isn’t meant to be an article about blessings and curses, the Children of Israel, or God; it’s about the wake-up factor of the talking ass. But I’ll tell you what happened with Balaam. He went to the camp of the Israelites, and he looked over them and… blessed them. After all, he knew he wouldn’t curse them.

About the Author
Esther Goldenberg is the founder of Out-of-the-Box Judaism. Her books The Out-of-the-Box Bat Mitzvah: A Guide to Creating a Meaningful Milestone and A Story Every Week: Torah Wisdom for Today's World is available on and at other online booksellers. Join the conversation at
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