When you visit me in my office, you’ll find a crocheted “Ruth Bader Ginsberg” doll, made for me by one of my friends, sitting on a shelf. As I carefully unpacked “Ruth” this week, I showed her to someone who asked, “Is she your hero?” I replied, “I don’t have any heroes. I believe each and every one of us is a hero in our own life in one way or another at some time. We are all heroes. I learn so much from my encounters with every individual, every person in my life.”
I thought about this conversation as I read this week’s Torah portion, Balak. In this parsha, we read the story of the Moabite King Balaam who hires the non-Israelite prophet, Balak, to curse the Israelites. Instead, the curse turns into a beautiful blessing: “Ma tovu o’halecha Ya’akov, mishkenotecha Yisrael. How beautiful are your tents O Jacob, your dwelling places oh Israel.” (Numbers 24:5) This blessing has become an integral part of our morning liturgy.
Balak inadvertently turns a curse into a blessing. He becomes an unlikely hero, bestowing upon the Israelites a beautiful gift from God.
This Torah portion is the story of our lives. Each of us can think of a time when our situation is going horribly wrong. Then, something occurs to highlight how blessed we are despite what is taking place. We are able to find these blessings during trying times either through the assistance of unsung heroes in our lives or because of our own strength, courage and fortitude which enabled us to move forward. We become the hero of our own life. We become the hero for others by our spirit, attitude, actions and outlook.
Balak stood on top of a mountain to initially curse the Israelites. If the mountain is high enough, the people below hardly look like people or they might even be invisible. How much easier it is to curse from an “overlook.”
When each of us is facing our own challenge, our own personal, communal or societal “mountains,” we too, can get caught up in the obstacles, the difficulties the hardships. It is difficult to find the blessings at such times like these. It is difficult to find our own inner hero, or to let others in, to help lift us up.
The lesson of Balak is to turn inward, hear the voice of the Divine, look outward and see the individual faces of those around us. With God in our hearts, with our friends, family and community by our sides, we can channel our own inner hero and allow others to walk by our side.
And we pray: May the Source of Blessing again turn curses into blessing. Even more, let us be God’s hands, taking action to transform curses into blessing, being the hero for ourselves and others and in so many places around the world.
We learn from this parsha, that yes, there may be curses threatening to rain down from the mountains, but if we open our eyes, we will find:
Ma Tovu Ohaleca Ya’acov, how beautiful are your tents O Jacob…
Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel
Senior Rabbi, Temple Beth Sholom