Torah: Balak:(Numbers 22:2-25:9) Haftarah:(Micah 5:6-6:8)
The Torah portion Balak has the non-Jewish king Balak of Moab who sent Balaam to put a curse on the Israelites. Balaam’s prophecies are listed, Balak’s anger at Balaam, Balaam blesses the children of Israel and Israel practices the cult of Baal of Peor.
Curses among biblical peoples, a curse was more than an expressed wish for evil, it was considered a method of translating such harmful efforts into reality. Curses were usually (though not always) pronounced in the name of a god or demon. Many Near Eastern peoples relied on professional prophets or sorcerers to curse their enemies in battle. In our story, even G-d viewed the intent with alarm.
So … Balaam’s blessing was, “How good are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling-places, O Israel.” This text is part of the opening prayer of the daily morning service, for which it provides a wonderful psychological warmup! Hebrew Mah Tovu!
The Haftarah is Balaam, a minor prophet (only minor in the few writings) who revealed his message during the last year of the eighth century B.C.E., saw the oppression of the Hebrew peasants, who were being robbed and overly taxed by the greedy and wealthy. Micah spoke out against this unfair exploitation of the poor. In addition, having seen the conquest of the Northern kingdom by Assyria, Micah predicts that the wrongdoing of the Israelites will bring on G-d’s wrath and ultimate punishment. Eventually, though, they will rise to become a shining example to the world’s other peoples. The Haftarah concludes with the following well known statement: “ it has been told, O man, what is good, and what G-d wants of you. Only to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your G-d.”
G-d’s requirements of anyone includes humility, justice, and kindness. These are the cardinal virtues of life itself. If only everyone would try to do just kindness, then maybe our world would be full of Light and then the actions of goodness will Lessen the Darkness.
Our President is in Israel. Let us pray that he will strive to bring a message of peace and unity from our country to Israel, and all the Middle Eastern countries.
Rabbi Helene Ainbinder