There is a fairytale-like story behind the first reading in which Balaam foretells the rise of the Christ-child’s star. As Moses and the Israelites grew strong during their forty years in the desert, they began pushing aside the strong nations in their path. As they came up from the desert to the land of Moab just across from the Holy Land, Moab’s king, Balak, sent to the Middle East, offering a great sum to Balaam, a holy man who could curse the invading army to force it to turn and flee.
As Balaam, riding on his ass, approached the land of Moab, an angel blocked his passage, and the ass, seeing the angel turned aside. After Balaam beat the ass, the ass was given the power of speech; and he asked, “Hey, didn’t you see the angel?”