D’Var Torah: July 15, 2016

Shabbat Shalom Friends,

This week we will be reading from Parashat Balak. As an aside, Balak is one of six Torah portions named after people in the Torah. The other five are Noah, Sarah (Chayyei Sarah), Yirto (Jethro), Korach and Pinchas.

Balak was the king of Moab. He had heard news of the Israelites and he was fearful that they would come and conquer his hand and his people. To protect himself, he decided to hire Balaam, a prophet of some renown, to go out and curse the Israelites. Balaam is interesting in part because he had a relationship with Adonai. When first approached by Balak’s emissaries, Balaam refused stating “Go back to your own country, for the Eternal will not let me go with you” (Numbers 22:13).

Only after a promise of tremendous financial reward did Balaam accept Balak’s offer. His initial journey to curse the Israelites was impeded by his mode of transportation, his donkey. An angel appeared before the donkey with a sword in hand and the donkey refused to go any further. Balaam became frustrated and he began beating the donkey. The donkey then turned and looked at Balaam and asked him why he kept beating him. This by the way is one of two instances in the Torah of a talking animal, the other being the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

Eventually Balaam continued on his way. When he came upon the Israelites, he attempted to curse them, as he had been contracted to do. However, each time he attempted to curse the Israelites, only words of praise were uttered forth. The most well known of these phrases, “Mah Tovu O’holecha Ya’akov, how beautiful are your tents O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel!” (Numbers 24:5). This phrase is recited as the opening part of our morning worship service.

Just take a moment to think about how extraordinary it is that we start off our morning worship service with the words of someone who was intended to be our enemy!

We live in a world today that often strives to create the binary system of ‘us vs. them.’ What the Torah and our Siddur (prayerbook) are reminding us is that the world is not so neat and organized. For example, here we find the lesson that we find many blessings through a person who was supposed to be our enemy.

Yes we live in a time where there is great evil in the world. And if all we do is look for evil, then we will most certainly find it over and over again. However, through this approach, we often miss the many blessings that also exist right before our eyes. So before we judge someone who is not ‘us,’ let us first strive to see if they too, like Balaam, can be a source of blessing. For getting to know the ‘other’ is one of the first pathways to peace.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Benjamin Sharff