D'var Torah Balak - “Mah Tovu - How Good it is to be Different”
July 22, 2016 - Congregation Kol Ami
Written and delivered by Jeremy Gimbel

This week, we witnessed a wealthy, racist, xenophobic, and paranoid leader use his power and influence to speak ill of a people, for the sole reason that they are different. Of course, I’m speaking of the character Balak in this week’s Torah portion.

Balak is a king of the neighboring Moabite community and he is fearful of the Jewish population. They’re just too big, he complains, they have too much influence...I think we have heard that before. Balak decides that the only way he can get a leg up on the Israelites is to hire a local prophet, Balaam, to stand on top of a mountain and curse the Israelites. Although Balak does his best to persuade Balaam to curse the Israelites, Balaam repeatedly tells Balak that he can only speak the words God puts in his mouth. 

It should come as no surprise, then, that when Balaam goes to the high place and takes a look at the Israelite community, he does not curse the Israelites, but he blesses them, differences and all: “Mah tovu ohalecha ya’akov mishkenotecha Yisrael - How good are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel.” This blessing was so powerful that the rabbis who formed our prayerbook ensured that the first prayer we say in a morning service begins with these words: “Mah tovu ohalecha ya’akov mishkenotecha Yisrael - How good are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel.”

What is it about these tents and dwelling places that brought Balaam to offer these words? Rabbi Yochanan teaches in the Talmud that Balaam saw that the doors of their tents did not exactly face each other, and that the Israelites thus respected each other's privacy. (Bava Batra 60a) In other words, the Israelites respected community cohesion and the right to be different, unique, individual. 

Jews embrace differences. Take a second and think about what the one, central teaching of Judaism is. If I was to poll the room, I’m sure I would get different answers from nearly all of you. After all, as the saying goes, if you put two Jews in a room you will get three opinions. The rabbis struggled with this as well. For Rabbi Akiba, a -- not the, but a -- central teaching of the Torah was to love your neighbor as yourself. For Hillel, it was, “What is hateful to you do not do to another.” While these stalwarts of our tradition could not agree on a central tenet of Judaism, the fact that they cannot agree is actually one of the more beautiful things about Judaism: we embrace dialogue, we embrace nuance, we embrace the right to be different. Judaism does not say, “You must think this way;” Judaism says, “Oh, good, you’re thinking!”

Indeed, one of our Jewish values is “hakarat hatov - seeing the good.” Hakarat hatov is about keeping a positive outlook -- seeing the good in the world at all moments of life. In Pirkei Avot, the lessons of our ancestors, we are taught, “Who is the rich one? The one who is happy with his lot.” (Avot, 4:1) We embody hakarat hatov when we sit at our Passover Seders and we say, “dayeinu - it would have been enough.” We embody hakarat hatov when we sing Mah Tovu and say, “Yes, there may be issues with our house, but our dwelling is pretty wonderful” and we “raise our voices in thanksgiving.” (Ps. 26:7) And we embody hakarat hatov when we reflect on this week and look at all of the good that happened this week: the NBA is standing up for LGBT rights, thousands stood up proudly at the Jerusalem Pride parade, and we almost went a whole week without a mass-casualty terrorist event. I know these may seem like small victories in the grand scheme of things, but hakarat hatov, seeing the good, is like gratitude - you have to start small. In a world full of k’vetching, Jews are different because we tend to look towards the good.

Truthfully, it is the differences and distinctions that we observe that make us who we are. Jews, for example, observe time differently. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel so beautifully articulated in his book, The Sabbath, Jews on Shabbat create a “palace in time.” When we say kiddish, we are not imbuing special holiness to the wine or grape juice we drink. Rather, the wine is merely a conduit as we attribute holiness to the time of Shabbat, which we separate from the rest of the week. We do this with Shabbat and all of our holy times - we live out our differences with others by how we observe time.

So, perhaps Balaam’s blessing was a reminder to us all. Perhaps Balaam’s blessing was meant to hold a mirror up to us. Perhaps Balaam’s blessing was really something very Jewish: embodying the value of hakarat hatov, seeing the good, and celebrating what makes Jews different. 

This Shabbat, may we be like Balaam, reminding us to celebrate our differences, to see the good, and create a Shabbat Shalom, a Shabbat of communal wholeness, of goodness, of peace. 

Mah tovu - how good it is to be different!
 


Comments

08/05/2016 5:22am

very nice

Reply
02/11/2017 3:50am

I may not be Jewish, but I relate to some of its teachings. People should note Balaam's reminder to celebrate our differences. It's sad to see that some religions have lost the meaning of the word of their god. I've heard some people twist the teachings of their god for their own advantage. It's horrible to see how our world has become. Greed and hate have spread. I hope to see more people stand up for the betterment of our world.

Reply
04/30/2017 5:02am

thanks you

Reply
08/05/2016 5:25am

I think it is not an easy work to stand in front of an audience for anything whatsoever. Be it to give a speech, read out an announcement for to even thank them for attending your meeting. I think it takes an enormous amount of courage for anyone to stand in front of an audience.

Reply
02/01/2017 8:08pm

Testomenix lots of these diets require special food plan meals and strict policies of ingesting which can be simply not realistic. it is not reasonable to expect to always be able Testomenix to have a magic diet bar round in each scenario. moreover who wants to eat unique food.

http://guidemesupplements.com/testomenix/

Reply

Hi colleagues, its great piece of writing concerning teachingand entirely defined, keep it up all the time.

Reply
02/02/2017 8:06pm

Alpha Monster Advance those dietary supplements zma have to be taken earlier than going to mattress on an empty stomach it is spherical hours after your ultimate meal. Alpha Monster Advance due to the fact zma is an powerful product you ought to not take another supplement.

http://www.strongtesterone.com/alpha-monster-advance/

Reply

We pride ourselves on 100% consumer loyalty and know our clients get the best costs as well as the best administration in the business.Auto and Truck Mirrors ,Side Mirror Glass ,Side Mirror glass Replacement

Reply
09/16/2016 3:58am

To be the same as other is very boring thing. We are so different an this makes us a humanity!

Reply
11/13/2016 7:46am

I feel like that I've read this post before. Yet I don't remember where.

Reply
02/03/2017 7:53pm

Biogenic XR they'll be a exceptional addition to the aromatic candles that you have lit and the massage which you have given her. you may even practice the gel onto her Biogenic XR yourself as a way to heighten the anticipation even extra which is continually a very good.

http://guidemesupplements.com/biogenic-xr/

Reply
02/05/2017 8:31pm

Alpha Monster Advanced whilst as compared to the closing workout. that is known as innovative overload and by means of having a small increment in weight Alpha Monster Advanced with each exercising routine you'll discover it a good deal less complicated to development.

http://t-rexmuscleadvice.com/alpha-monster-advanced/

Reply
02/06/2017 7:50pm

Alpha X Boost the muscle constructing is important in the building of an awesome and appealing physique. muscle thickness is no child's play, considering not simplest Alpha X Boost operating out however your weight loss plan additionally performs.

http://www.strongtesterone.com/alpha-x-boost/

Reply
02/07/2017 7:56pm

Azienda Collagen Serum the actual problem and they're safer to apply as nicely. without chemicals and additives you recognize you are getting a product filled handiest Azienda Collagen Serum with products that are formulated to provide you the healthiest pores and skin possible.

http://www.healthsupreviews.com/azienda-collagen-serum/

Reply
02/08/2017 8:01pm

Alpha Monster Advanced endorphins additionally don't have any hassle gaining muscle groups however unlike mesomorphs these human beings also don't have any Alpha Monster Advanced trouble gaining weight. weight-reduction plan control is the key to successful bodybuilding.

http://guidemesupplements.com/alpha-monster-advanced/

Reply

Alpha Monster Advanced a light workout an elliptical construct muscle the manner you want it to. in case you just need to tone your muscle tissues you may set the Alpha Monster Advanced settings lower. but to surely build muscle you want to set the tension stages.

http://rockhardfacts.com/alpha-monster-advanced/

Reply
02/17/2017 6:54am

At Mobile Q Canada we pride ourselves in being the trustworthy services/products provider in the neighborhood.

Reply
04/12/2017 4:05am

This depends on your point of view. Everyone understand God in they special way. That is why God is different for all.

Reply
04/30/2017 5:02am

nice blog

Reply
04/30/2017 5:03am

thanks for the given info

Reply
04/30/2017 5:03am

nice blog..

Reply



Leave a Reply