Chukkat/Balak – Num.19:1-22:1/22:2-25:9 (July 3/4)

As the Torah Turns

Rabbi Lader’s Weekly D’var Torah

Chukkat/Balak – Num.19:1-22:1/22:2-25:9 (July 3/4)

Ours is a double-portion this week – Chukkat/Balak – Num.19:1-22:1/22:2-25:9… and these comments will focus on Balak, which begins as Balak, the Moabite king, afraid of the advancing – and very numerous – Israelites, hires the prophet Balaam to curse the Israelite people. Balaam grudgingly accepts, but knows that the words that will come from his mouth will be the words of God. (It is helpful to know here that Balaam is not a Jewish prophet, but recognizes God’s Presence.) Balaam comes before Balak, who immediately take him to one mountain top overlooking the Israelites’ encampment, and expects the curse to come from Balaam’s lips.  It does not; it is a blessing.  Balaam is taken to another mountaintop and Balak expects another course, but the words of God come from the mouth of Balaam — and they are a blessing. One final mountaintop… and Balak is very upset … and expects there to be a curse this last time.  “And Balaam lifted his eyes, and he saw Israel dwelling tribe by tribe; and the spirit of God came upon him. … ‘How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings O Israel.”  (Num. 24:2;5) “Dwelling tribe by tribe.”  Balaam notes how the encampemt is spearated by tribe, and, as the renown Torah commentator, Rashi, comments, Balaam saw that their tents were situated so that the privacy of each family was preserved.   This is not a bad thing.  Balaam is taken by how the encampment of the Israelites values both the differences of the people and the importance of dignity. No curse here; when difference is celebrated and preserved, and when the personal needs of the individual are important, it would be hard to overcome a people such as this. Balaam’s words “How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel” open our Morning Service – Mah tovu ohalecha, Ya’akov, mishkanotecha, Yisrael.”   As we celebrate our nation’s birthday this Shabbat and open our Shabbat Morning Service, perhaps these words can serve to remind us how the values of diversity and dignity are crucial to the strength and survival of all people.                

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