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Ask, But You Shall Not Receive

07/14/2022 02:52:57 PM


What happens when one demands something from another that they cannot provide? At different times in our lives, we might be on the giving, or the receiving end of that disappointment. We might be disappointed by another person not playing the role that we expected them to play, despite expressing our expectations, or we might let someone else down by not living up to what they asked from us. Our portion this week, Balak, gives us examples of both experiences.

The portion is named for the Moabite king who sets its action in motion. Balak summons Balaam, a prophet-for-hire, to curse the Jewish people. Balaam expects that God will let him curse the Israelites, so he is surprised when God informs him that he is not to go.  Balaam sends more messengers, and finally God tells Balaam to go, with the caveat that Balaam may only offer the words that God has authorized. And indeed, in the end, God causes Balaam to bless the Israelites, much to Balak‚Äôs frustration.

Balaam is on the giving and receiving end of these unsatisfied expectations. Balaam at first does not get the answer that he wants from God, so he keeps asking for the right to curse the Israelites. God eventually tells him to go, but does not give Balaam permission to do what he actually wants to do.  The apparent yes is actually a no.

Conversely, Balaam does the same to Balak. Balak  initially does not get the answer he wants, bu then keeps pushing with more messengers and more offers of reward. He ignores the fact that Balaam has committed only to come with him, not to curse as he has requested. He is shocked and dismayed that  Balaam does not carry through with the curses.

We have an obligation to be open with others about our own strengths and weaknesses, and not to promise that which we cannot or do not intend to deliver. Conversely, if we have unrealistic expectations of others, if we press them for that which is beyond their capability or control, we are bound to be disappointed. We may be able to force the answer, or twist the response until it becomes what we want to hear, but we should not expect satisfaction from the end result.

Fri, June 14 2024 8 Sivan 5784