דבר תורה D'var Torah PARSHAT: BALAK Rabbi Ari Lucas, Temple Beth Am - Los Angeles
There are two themes that run through Parashat Balak- 1) the importance of perspective and 2) the power of words. Balak, the King of Moav, hears of the Israelites’ recent military success. Fearing for his own well-being, Balak hires Bilam the sorcerer to curse the approaching Israelite camp. Time and again, Bilam tries to carry out his mission, but beautiful poetic blessings keep flowing out of his mouth instead of curses. The most famous of these blessings is one which has made it into our daily t’filot.
Mah tovu ohalekha Ya’akov, mishkenotekha Yisrael - How good are your tents O’ Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel.
What compelled Bilam to bless rather than curse? And what might we learn from this story about perspective and the power of words in our daily lives? I think one answer to these questions can be found in Numbers 23:13
After the first failed curse attempt, Balak says the following to Bilam.
Come with me to another place where you can see them - you’ll only see the edge of them, not all of them, and then you will curse them for me from there.
Balak seems to believe that if he positions Bilam just the right way, then Bilam will be able to execute the curse. Those who want to manipulate us to see others in a negative light only show us part of the picture. Every person has a part of him or herself that needs improvement. Every community has aspects of which it is not proud. People and leaders who feel insecure with themselves exploit those weaknesses and hope that we’ll dwell on them. But when we see the whole person, or the fullness of a community, more often than not, we gain a greater appreciation of the complexity and are more favorable in our judgment.
The middah Ramah is focusing on this week is shmirat ha-lashon - guarding one’s tongue. When we use our language to bring others down - whether in person or on social media, we’re falling victim to Balak’s trickery. We’re dwelling on the negative rather than giving people the benefit of the doubt. I think the lesson from this week’s Torah portion is - when you think you have the whole picture and are tempted to curse, pause for a moment before you do. Change your perspective. Try to see the bigger picture. Maybe then, you’ll be inspired to bless.
Midah L’Edah לשוןLanguage
Ramah can be a noisy place. Stand in any spot at Camp any weekday morning, and you will hear a cacophony coming from all directions. Sometimes, it’s just sounds, wafting through the camp: Shira (singing) under the tree at the Alon Binyamin circle; instruments tuning up in the Beit K’nesset Ramah (synagogue); cheering for a home run in the baseball field; splashing and laughter at the breicha (pool). But most prominently, everywhere you go, you hear words: madrichim (counselors) directing a program with their chanichim (counselors); a rabbi sharing a d’var torah; members of the mishlachat (Israeli staff members) speaking Hebrew. And of course, shmoozing. Lots and lots of shmoozing!
As Jews, we know the power of words. Open up your Torah to the very beginning, and you will see the extraordinary impact of just a few sentences: God creates the entire world with words. (In our morning prayers, we acknowledge this when we recite ברוך שאמר והיה העולם Baruch She’Amar, v’haya ha’olam: Blessed is the One who spoke the world into existence.) And human beings have a big spark of that divine verbal power. The great 20th-century thinker, Abraham Joshua Heschel, would tell his daughter to remember that “words create worlds”. And they do. With language, we create love and joy and learning and relationships and trust. With words, we innovate, we comfort, we inspire, we encourage. We also acknowledge to know the dangers of language as well: words can break hearts, and extinguish hope, and hurt relationships. Like God, we have a significant tool: every breath of lashon (language) has the potential to make a difference.
The extraordinary power of Camp is that it provides a healthy, joyous and beautiful space in which kids can grow. Drenched in sunshine, surrounded by community, and making some of their happiest memories, our chanichim are also learning how to navigate the world beyond Ojai. And at the heart of this growth is the intentional use of language woven throughout each day, beginning and concluding with the holiest possible words. At the start of each day, they recite Modeh Ani — the prayerbook’s ultimate statement of gratitude; and they end each evening with Shema Yisrael — words of faith and peoplehood.
Rabbi Shawn Fields-Meyer,
Upper School Rabbi, Milken Community Schools
תמונת השבוע Photo of the Week
תשמרו את התאריך Save the Date
Sunday, August 7th, 2016
FRESH OFF THE PRESS:
Early enrollment opens on Yom Kehillah 2016
Kayitz 2017 Dates-
First Session - Tuesday, June 20 – Monday, July 17 Second Session - Thursday, July 20 – Wednesday, August 16 Gesher Alef - Tuesday, June 20 – Monday, July 3 Gesher Bet - Tuesday, July 4 – Monday July 17 Gesher Gimmel - Thursday, July 20 – Wednesday, August 2 Gesher Dalet - Thursday, August 3 – Wednesday, August 16