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    Son of a bird – Balak

    birdThe sidra is called by the name of the Moabite king Balak who opens the story.

    “Balak” probably comes from a root that means to lay waste. Isaiah utilises this root b-l-k, when he begins his 24th chapter with the powerful rhetoric of the phrase, HaShem bokek ha’aretz uvol’kah – “The Lord makes the earth empty and lays it waste”.

    Balak was no friend of the Israelites and thought he could lay them waste in a moral and national sense by sending Moabite girls to tempt and seduce the young men of Israel.

    Balak’s father was Tzippor (Num. 22:2) – a strange name which means “bird”. The root is tz-p-r, to chirp. In Aramaic tz’far and tzafra mean “morning”, presumably because that is when the birds begin to chirp.

    But how can a human being be named “Bird”?

    In rabbinical literature Tzippor was not himself a king but a minor prince. When the sages tell the story they apply the characteristics of a bird to Balak himself, not his father, and say he flew as swiftly as a bird to do harm to Israel.

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