- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On July 19, 2019
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings. I write from Israel as we take this time for a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat.
The King of Moab, Balak, was deeply disturbed. He convinced himself that the Israelites threatened his very existence since they encamped at his border. His own insecurity and self-induced dread caused him to descend into moral depravity. From a distance, without any attempt to understand the situation of the Israelites on their way toward the land of great promise, Balak immediately jumped to prejudicial conclusions that these people were no good and only wanted to take advantage of his own territory, fearing they would lick it clean like animals and cover it from view. (Numbers 22: 4-5) He wanted to weaken them and to reduce their integrity and humanity, so he called for the well-known prophet, Balaam, to curse the Israelites.
It didn’t work. It never does. As this week’s Torah portion details, (Numbers 22:2ff) Balaam ended up blessing the Israelites despite the consternation of the leader of the Moabites. As much as the King tried to use others to further his agenda of xenophobia, prejudice, and humiliation of the Israelites, Balaam ended up blessing the Israelite people. Balak thought he had the power to damn the people for whom he dreaded. He assumed that as King he had the most control. As the story unfolded, the will of a nefarious leader was no match for the Divine.
The presence of God in this story ensured that the potential for curse ended up in blessing. The Divine is an active player in the drama as God instructed the willing prophet throughout the narrative in full view to the reader of the story. And yet, I wonder if the sacred is unseen as well.
This portion contains an important declaration by Balaam as he gazes from on high at the Israelites encamped below. He says, “How wonderful are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel.” (24:5) That moment transformed the Israelites from a dreaded and numerous group to a collection of individual souls made in the image of the God and therefore precious in their humanity. This is where the sacred lies. Every person amidst the people mattered and was seen. What the King of Moab tried to do was to ignore the stories of their lives and see only himself. His egotistical needs clouded his ability to see anyone or anything but himself.
Every country deserves to defend its borders. How that happens and who decides depends on the moral integrity of the leaders. They need to be held accountable for decent and ethical behavior. We must expect them to seek the best interests of their nations and countries, and not the best interests of their egotistical desires and wishes. Their stories aren’t over and neither is ours. We are active participants to ensure that curse turns into blessing as the ancient borders become our own wherever we live.
Join us for Qabbalat Shabbat tonight at 6:00 p.m., inside where it’s cool. If you are unable to join, please live stream HERE. Torah Study begins tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. with a short service followed by a lively discussion. Share your thoughts and reflections directly with me HERE.