- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On July 22, 2016
- 0 Comments
Welcome again to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat.
In the Torah this week, we read about the King of Moab who commissions Balaam, a prophet-seer, to curse the Israelites as they continue their trek toward the land of Canaan. From the ruler’s vantage point, the Jewish people appeared formidable in size so he feared them. By cursing them, he would diminish their ability to be threatening. At least, that is what the King of Moab hoped would happen, but it did not.
Instead, as much as Balaam attempts to curse, blessing comes forward. One of the blessings, which is part of our morning liturgy, is this:
מַה־טֹּ֥בוּ אֹהָלֶ֖יךָ יַעֲקֹ֑ב מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶ֖יךָ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
How fair are your tents, O Jacob
Your dwellings, O Israel! (Numbers 24:5)
Balaam then proceeds to compare the Jewish people to palm groves, gardens, aloes, and cedars all planted by the water’s edge, nourished and nurtured by moisture and God’s presence.
He sees from afar, in fact, what the Israelites don’t see up close. Throughout the Book of Numbers and even in Exodus, the community is mired by complaint, particularly regarding their thirst. The Jewish people at this point in their wandering of 40 years in the wilderness cannot yet perceive that blessing gushes forth and sprouts fertile possibilities for them. Balaam recognizes how they dwell together. The commentator, Nachmanides, said that their land would be full of good things.
Nearness sometimes casts a pale upon our ability to appreciate what we have. Taking a step or two away permits us to have an alternative perspective. At times, that realization emerges from others who present the experience we may share differently. From the outside, they shed a new light for us to express appreciation for what has been there all along.
Balaam, through Divine insight, turned curses into blessings. Through Shabbat, as we take a step back, we, too, gain insight. Though there is much to worry about in the world, in our lives and in our communities, may we take this day to gain new insights, sacred perhaps, of the blessings blossoming right before us.
If you are in town, come celebrate Shabbat together and join us for Qabbalat Shabbat INSIDE with plenty of singing, learning, praying, thinking, and cool air.
Please feel free to connect with me here. I would be honored to learn of your own reflections and response. I’m grateful to the many people who have already shared their thoughts with me in this way.