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Why is parshat Balak written without breaks in the torah scroll?

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This past Shabbat I was reminded (while watching the torah reader rolling the scroll) that all (or nearly all?) of parshat Balak is written as one long paragraph in the scroll -- three solid columns with no short or long breaks. Why is this?

I could imagine that it being about a gentile prophet being a factor, or perhaps that he was attempting to do harm to Yisrael, so maybe there's an idea of giving it no more space than it strictly needs. But if that were the reason, wouldn't we do the same thing with the tochecha, which is even more alarming? Further, we read the tochecha quickly and in a low voice, but not Balak, so I don't think the goal is "get through it as efficiently as possible".

This is the only torah passage after the start of Avraham's story that is told from an outside perspective -- the "point of view" of most of it is Balak and Bilaam plotting against Yisrael, while elsewhere Yisrael has the central focus. (I'm not talking about the end of the parsha and the events with Moav and Pinchas.) Is that a factor? I acknowledge that secular scholars might suggest that this passage had a different origin than other parts of the torah, but our tradition, and the people who finalized the format of the written torah scroll, wouldn't have that perspective.

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I guess this is part of a larger question of what determines the paragraph breaks in the Torah. If we... (2 comments)

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