Parshat Balak: Aloh Na'aleh
Rebbetzin Holly Pavlov
Man's roots are in two seemingly contradictory sources. He has a soul with no physical likeness that contains within it Divinity. And he has a body that by itself, without the soul, would not be human.
Each of the two components, body and soul, has its own method of expression and its own needs. The connecting point between these two components is speech. The soul, without the body, requires no expression. When the soul enters the body, however, the soul and body must interact and speech is the mechanism through which body and soul coalesce.
Speech is the seam between the physical and the spiritual, because speech is composed of
both. Speech is the translation of ideas, of spiritual thoughts, and of connection to God, brought into physical reality through the tongue, lips and teeth.
The higher the level of speech, the closer we are to our true humanity, which is our "piece" of Divinity; the lower the level of speech, the closer we are to mere physicality. If a person uses
speech to express his connection to God, he is using speech in its most perfect way. If, on the other hand, a person uses speech in a crude manner, his speech is no different than the sounds made by an animal.
It is possible to reach such a low level of speech that we reflect only the animal part of ourselves, that is, the physical body detached from its Godly component. In fact, this is one way we can understand Bilaam's speaking donkey. "Chamor," in Hebrew, means
donkey, but it’s root is in the word "chomer," meaning material, physical. When Bilaam's donkey opened up her mouth, she was the expression of Bilaam's understanding of humanity, which is that we are nothing more than talking donkeys.
It is significant that this incident occurred, as the Jews were about to enter the Land of Israel. Bilaam denied the possibility of the coexistence of physical and spiritual in any physical object.
The land of Israel is the ultimate reflection of the Jewish perspective on physicality and spirituality. It combines physical and spiritual. We conquer the land and work the earth, using all of the physical strengths given to us. Yet ultimately, it is our spiritual observance that determines whether the land yields its produce. And of course, we turn to God in prayer, the highest level of speech to “Give dew and rain in its time.”