June 28, 2018


6.29.2018 Weekly Torah Portion

This week’s Torah Portion is Balak. This is the name of the King of Moab, a country that Israel would overtake.  He is afraid of the Israelites and calls for Balaam, a prophet to curse the people so that he can defeat the Israelites.  He is so into winning that he doesn’t consider talking to the Israelites and finding ways to co-exist with them.  He is so into himself and his ways that he doesn’t think that anyone else can teach him anything.  He is also unable to conceive of how to talk to the Israelites, almost like they are too beneath his status and like immigrants/migrants.

How often do we see others as enemies before we talk to them?  What causes us to think that others only want to defeat us rather than find ways to co-exist?  When will we see “the other” as another human being?

 As a Prophet, Balaam is not someone who causes curses and blessings; he is a man who can tell the future and give advice on how to live better through the word of God.  This is a very subtle difference.  Many of us go to others to put “curses” and “blessings” on others.  No one has this power, not even Rabbis!  What all people have is the ability to bless others with our actions and love.  Blessings are for God and for others to remember how strong, powerful, holy and important each of us is.  Many times people think that I, as Rabbi, have the power to bless them with good fortune.  I don’t!  I can help them with a blessing that empowers them to act in ways that honor their own dignity and strength.  This is what Balaam is able to do.  Balak doesn’t realize this.  He thinks that Balaam is a magician.

When do you go to someone looking for magic rather than truth?  What do you do to bless yourself and others?  How are you accessing your ability to hear the word of God/higher consciousness to live better?

 Balaam, like Moses, hears the word of God and knows he has to follow it.  This is his strength and his highest expression of his humanness.  Yet, even he can be seduced.  While he refuses Balak once, he is unable to refuse Balak’s second request.  I believe it is because he is seduced by the stature of the people sent to ask him and the promise of riches.  This is an important lesson.  God tells him okay, go AND you will be able to say only the words I put in your mouth.  While it seems that Balaam has God’s blessing to go, here again is a subtle lesson.  God has already said no.  Balaam asks again because he wants the reward and is seduced by the adoration shown him by Balak.  The lesson here, I believe, is that once told no, God allows us to choose to do what we want to. Balaam should not have asked the second time.  Yet, he wants what he wants and is able to go against what he knows is right to get it!

How often do we keep asking for the same thing after being told NO?  Since the sale begins with NO, how do we know when to accept NO as a valid answer?  What stops us from accepting the NO from our higher consciousness and God?

 In this Parsha, we have the story of the talking she-ass.  It is funny and, in a way, unbelievable.  Yet, here again, we are learning that it is important to hear things from others, even when we think they are beneath us.  In Pirke Avot, Ethics of the Sages, we are taught: “Who is wise?  One who learns from everyone.”  There is a saying: “Out of the mouths of babes come words of wisdom.”  We all forget these sayings when they don’t “serve” us.  When others are telling us what we don’t want to hear, we dismiss them.  When we can’t get what we want, we get angry and dismissive.  Yet, this story teaches us that others can see what we are blind to.

Are you treating those “beneath” you with respect when they disagree with you?  Do you continue to seek out only those that agree with you?  Are you surrounded by sycophants or by those who seek and speak truth?  Do you realize that the best “servants” are those that protect you from yourself?

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mark