Saturday, June 22, 2013

Cursing the Other vs. Blessing the Other

By Rabbi Thomas Louchheim

40th Torah Portion, 7th in B’midbar

Balak 22:2-25:9 (104 verses)

Synopsis:

Balak, the king of Moab, persuades the prophet Balaam to curse the Israelites so that he can defeat them and drive them out of the region. Balaam tries unsuccessfully to carry out this mission three times and finally blesses the Children of Israel instead, prophesying that Israel’s enemies will be defeated. God punishes the Israelites with a plague for consorting with the Moabite women and their god. The plague is stayed after Pinchas kills an Israelite man and his Midianite woman.

Commentary:

This week’s commentary is from my teacher, Rabbi Ted Falcon entitled Anger into Blessing. Let’s look at the following verses from our parasha:

“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, since they are too numerous for me; perhaps I can thus defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that he whom you bless is blessed indeed, and he whom you curse is cursed.” (22:5 – 6)

Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary, quotes an earlier commentary, Beit Ramah, in which the question is raised, “Why didn’t Balak hire Balaam to bless his own people rather than to curse Israel, since ‘whom you bless is blessed indeed’?” And the suggested answer is that Balak was so consumed by anger that “he forgot about his people’s needs and could only think about hurting his enemy.” (p. 895)

Anger is such a problem for so many of us. The Talmud suggests that when we are considering someone as a friend, we need to first see how they deal with their anger, because in anger we tend to lose sight of what really matters. Our tradition equates anger to idolatry, since it compels us forget our relationship with the divine essence in ourselves and others.

Before Balaam attempted to fulfill Balak’s charge to curse the Israelites, he prayed for deeper support. Even though he did not receive that inner reassurance that the task he was agreeing to was a right one, he chose to take it on. But on the road to Moab, he had a striking and unexpected moment of revelation. His donkey suddenly failed to obey him, and finally stopped in his tracks. The donkey saw what Balaam could not:

Then the angel of the Lord went ahead and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam. And Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.” (22:26-30)

 “Then the Eternal One uncovered Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Eternal standing in the way, his drawn sword in his hand, and he bowed to the ground.” (22:31)

When Balaam remembered that Greater Presence, the Angel sent to meet him on the way, he was led to bless the people Israel, even though he had been hired to curse them.

We can always find something to be angry at, can we not? Yet in the biblical drama, that foreign prophet Balaam was unable to do so. Although he tried again and again to speak words of cursing, he finally blessed the very people he had been hired to curse. His words have made their way into our prayer books:

“How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!”

(Mah tovu, ohalecha Yaakov, mishk’notecha Yisrael!)

Anger and negative affirmations (curses) blind us to our connection to God and God’s blessings. Blessing is the path to truth and relationship.

Questions:

  1. When you experience anger, what is the hurt or fear that supports it?
  2. When you consider past anger, you discover that it has kept you from…?
  3. What is the satisfaction you derive from cursing or hurting another person by      your words? Can you find that satisfaction in a blessing instead?
  4. Were you to find blessings in this moment, you would realize. . .?

Focus:

  1. Become more aware of the blessings in your life right now.
  2. Open your heart to bless all that is not yet blessed.