As Balaam set out for Moab, “God was angry because he was going” (Numbers 22:22). Why? Had not God Himself granted Balaam permission to go? Why did He become angry? The Almighty knew what was in Balaam’s heart. He knew that, despite all his exterior piety, Balaam intended to curse Israel and get the reward from Balak.

The Angel of the LORD blocked Balaam’s path three times. Each time, Balaam did not see the angel, but the donkey did. This is more than just good storytelling. The three incidents correspond to Balaam’s three attempts to curse Israel in Numbers 23-24. Balaam attempted to utter a curse over the people of Israel three times, but each time the LORD stood in his way, so to speak, and changed his curse into a blessing.

Ironically, Balaam referred to himself as “the man whose eye is opened” (Numbers 24:4) and as the man “who knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty … having his eyes uncovered” (Numbers 24:15-16). His donkey disagreed with his self-assessment. The man who “sees clearly the vision of the Almighty with eyes open,” did not see as clearly as his donkey. The donkey had a better vision of God than Balaam did. The donkey had deeper spiritual insight than Balaam did.

The Angel of the LORD blocked Balaam’s path three times. An unseen angel with a sword in his hand stood only a few paces ahead of him. On the third occasion, Balaam assaulted his donkey with a stick. When the donkey rebuked him, Balaam said, “If there had been a sword in my hand, I would have killed you by now” (Numbers 22:29). The sages noticed the irony of such a statement from a man who allegedly could defeat an entire nation simply by the power of his words. He intended on smiting all Israel with the power of his speech, but he needed to beat his donkey with a stick and wished for a sword to kill her:

This villain was going to curse an entire nation which had not sinned against him [merely by the power of his words], yet he has to smite his donkey [with his hand] to prevent it from going into a field! … the donkey spoke to Balaam saying, “You need a sword in your hand to kill me? How then do you intend to uproot an entire nation with only your words?” Balaam could not think of an answer, so he kept silent. (Numbers Rabbah 20:14)

The Midrash Rabbah goes on to explain that one should never argue with donkeys or any other animals because they will always outwit a person. For that reason, God, in His mercy and wisdom, has closed the mouths of animals. If not, they would continually make us feel stupid:

The Holy One, blessed be He, has consideration for the dignity of mankind and, knowing their weakness, He shut the mouth of beasts. For had they been able to speak, it would have been impossible to put them to the service of man or to stand one’s ground against them. For here was this donkey, the most stupid of all beasts, and there was the wisest of all wise men, yet as soon as she opened her mouth he could not stand his ground against her! (Numbers Rabbah 20:14)

Balak בלק
Torah : Numbers 22:2-25:9
Haftarah : Micah 5:6-6:8
Gospel : Mark 11:12-26

Source: Torah Portion