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“Escalation” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

July 15, 2022 | 16 Tamuz 5782

Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings as we move toward Shabbat. Listen to it as a podcast here.

This week, our Torah portion speaks to the moral choices of leaders.

The Bible is full of leaders who spew fear and falsehoods. Pharaoh thought the Israelite slaves would rise up against him. Haman promoted suspicion about the Jewish people dispersed among the other peoples who were too different to tolerate.

This week in our portion, it is the King of Moab who dreaded the Israelites crossing his territory. There is a people that came out of Egypt; it hides the earth from view, and it is settled next to me. Come then, put a curse upon this people for me…and drive them out of the land.” (Numbers 22: 5-6)

The king whose name is Balak hired a prophet, Balaam, to take up the task. It seemed like a clear and easy solution to his problem: Direct his own disgust and insecurity away from himself and his people. Since he felt threatened, the attention could be projected on that which bothered him rather than ensure security from within.

In the commentary, Eitz Hayim, (page 895), the question is posed, Why didn’t Balak hire Balaam to bless his own people rather than curse Israel? The Torah text informed us that Balak engaged Balaam because he knew “he whom you bless is blessed indeed, and he whom you curse is cursed.”  Why wouldn’t he protect his own people? Balak was so consumed by hatred that he forgot about his people’s needs and could think only about hurting his enemy.

The king’s narrow vision and ego prevented him from pursuing another path. Though Balak pushed Balaam to curse the Israelites, each time blessing came forth not for the king of Moab but for the Israelites. Even Balaam knew that blessing came from a sacred place.

In an attempt to curse others, the end result came to be a curse upon the Moabites themselves. (Deut. 23: 4-7) Such is the tragedy of those leaders who refuse to reflect on their own faults and insecurities and prefer, instead, to project it on others. Eventually, they inflict curses upon themselves.

May Shabbat provide us a respite from the world’s insecurities to find strength within to face every challenge and turn curses into blessings.

(previously shared 7.17.17)

Shabbat Shalom

I remain grateful for your comments and reflections and look forward to corresponding regarding your responses. Connect with me here.

If you are interested in participating in the Psalm prayer project for Hayim Oren please connect with Amy Sherr. Read the invitation to participate here.

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Rabbi Elaine Zecher