Celebrating the Spiritual Levels of Torah

Torah is a teaching that continues to unfold, guiding us to appreciate the text more fully
as our awareness evolves.

Torah Portion for week of July 14 - 20, 2019:
Balak

(Numbers 22:2 - 25:9)

Anger captures our consciousness

It is in anger that we most quickly lose sight of what really matters. The Talmud suggests that when we are considering someone as a friend, we need to first see how they deal with their anger. Because anger always creates greater separation, it automatically takes us out of a more inclusive awareness. As we then lose sight of Oneness, we slide into the essential fragmentation that marks all idolatry. Anger captures our consciousness, and renders us unable to think clearly.

The parashah this week contains the saga of Bilaam, the prophet hired by Balak, King of Moab, to curse the People Israel so they might be defeated by the Moabites. A note in Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary directs our attention to King Balak's first statement, sent to Bilaam as invitation:

"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)

Why didn't Balak ask Balaam to bless his own people rather than curse the Israelites? 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) We can see how such forgetting is being acted out today in our polarized and painfully conflicted world.

Our anger captures our consciousness, and renders us unable to think clearly. Because anger always creates greater separation, it automatically takes us out of a more inclusive awareness. As we then lose sight of Oneness, we slide into the essential fragmentation that marks all idolatry.


Blind to the present moment

Before Bilaam attempted to fulfill Balak's charge to curse the Israelites, he prayed for deeper support. Even though he did not receive 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 Bilaam could not:

And the donkey saw the angel of the Eternal standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand; and the donkey turned aside out of the way, and went into the field; and Balaam struck the donkey, to turn it to the way. (22:23)

Three times the donkey turned aside from the angel with the sword.

Then the Eternal opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Bilaam, "What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?. . .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 excerpts)

"Then the Eternal One uncovered Bilaam'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)

How often are we, like Bilaam, blind to the present moment because we are captivated by thoughts of future events? Bilaam is forced to realize that he could not hide his intentions from God — or his donkey — and offers to abort his journey. But the angel tells him to continue, again warning him to speak only the authentic words of God.

Balak, of course, is delighted to receive Bilaam, even though Bilaam warns him that he can only convey the words and energies that he receives from the Eternal. And, though he tries three times to curse the people Israel, what finally emerges are words of blessing, words that 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!)


Seek the deeper teaching of the Heart

There are so many reasons to be angry today. It is easy to hold our grievances so tightly that we define ourselves by our anger. Is it possible, in these difficult times, to awaken to the angel standing in the way, seeking to turn us from the righteous indignation that can masquerade as integrity?

Bilaam meditated prior to pronouncing the curse for which he was commissioned. There is a lesson to be learned here: when we feel called upon to curse, to find the negatives and give them more power, take some time to breathe first.

Move through the flush of anger to seek the deeper teaching of the Heart. Rather than satisfying the self-righteous flame of ego, take a moment to consider what is really important. Consider what needs to be healed within ourselves so that we can contribute most fully to the world.

The Haftarah, the prophetic reading assigned to this parashah, contains this incredibly clear teaching from Micah:

"It has been told you, humankind, what is good, and what the Eternal One asks of you: Only to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk with integrity with your God." (Micah 6:8)


Writing Prompts

I get angry most quickly when. . .
My anger in the past has led me to. . .
Were I to find blessings in this moment, I would realize. . .


Focus Phrases

I turn from old grievances and choose the Way of blessing.
I witness any anger I experience and honor the hurt or fear behind it.
I open my heart to bless that which is not yet blessed.






Photo: Mark Reden