“Home is where the heart is.”
This famous, yet cliché quote sums up my feelings during this past week. As Lauren, Benny, and I spent the week packing and then moving yesterday into our new home here in Upper Nyack, I finally understood the cliché. Moving can be very stressful, so when all of our boxes and furniture were finally unloaded, it felt like we had really come home; this is where our hearts belong.
All week long I have been thinking about how appropriate it is that we are moving this week, the week of Parashat Balak. I have a soft spot for this week’s parsha, that of my Bar Mitzvah. It does not get much better as a 13 year old than having a talking donkey as part of your parsha and incorporating it into your speech. The “magic” is stimulating. If you want to hear even more about this, please come on Shabbat morning to hear, “Do You Believe In Magic?”
While this parsha has great meaning for me and I love the supernatural aspect involved. It is the words of Baalam to the Israelites that always intrigue me the most. Every year I grasp onto a different interpretation predicated on where I am at in my life. This week, I found the nexus that related directly to my move and the transition we are in at CSI.
In Baalam’s first “poem”, he speaks of the Israelites in Bamidbar, Numbers 23:9, “As I see them from the mountain tops, gaze on them from the heights; there is a people that dwells apart, not reckoned among the nations.” I always ask myself, what is all this? This appears to be a very uncomfortable statement about the Israelites. Rashi suggests that Balaam is predicting a secure future for the people of Israel. He means to say: “I look at your origins (mountain tops) and see that you are strongly rooted in your ancestors (heights). You are distinguished (dwell apart) by your Torah traditions, and because of them you will not suffer the fate (be reckoned) of extinction but will survive and prosper.”
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a 19th century scholar from Germany takes this one step further and says that when Balaam looks upon the people, he sees in their traditions and values a uniqueness worthy of blessing. I also see our traditions and values at CSI as a blessing; along with our glorious 120 year history, especially after the warm welcome my family and I received last Shabbat.
In Balaam’s second “poem”, he brings down the well known paean we recite today every Rosh Hashanah during the Malchuyot section of the Musaf service. Balaam says in Numbers 23:21, “No harm is in sight for Jacob, no woe in view for Israel. Adonai their God is with them…” I always revel in this blessing. Nachmanides, Ramban, perceives that Balaam is not predicting the future but making a judgment about the character of the Israelites. Even though the Israelites sin, just as we all commit sins, their morals and values were “high” enough to overcome those sins so that God remained with the people.
The most famous blessing of all, Ma Tovu, which one should utter every time we enter a sanctuary states, “Ma Tov Ohalecha Yaakov, Mishkenotecha Yisrael,” “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, and your tabernacles, O Israel!” Rashi and many other commentators are quick to note that this blessing is exactly what Balaam felt as he looked down at the Israelites and their modest community.
This is precisely how I am feeling as we move into Shabbat this week. With regard to my new homes, both on Front Street and at CSI, I cannot help but feel that these “tents” of our congregation, are beautiful and are deserving of every blessing Balaam articulated. We all have Godly attributes in us and it is time for us together to put them to use as Balaam expressed regarding our ancestors.
Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham