The sweetness of the sour
70 faces featured on How to Blog a Book

Three divrei Torah on Balak

This week we're in parashat Balak, which is a fun one. King Balak hires Balaam to curse the children of Israel; after hijinks with a talking donkey who sees angels, the prophet instead offers blessings. (For us, anyway.)

Here are tastes of the divrei Torah I've posted about this portion over the years.


With eyes unveiled, Balaam sees a new reality. Instead of seeing a military threat, a foreign people to be feared -- as Balak had seen -- Balaam looks into the hills and sees a people who travel with the Holy Blessed One in their midst. He sees with mochin d'gadlut, his "big mind" or expanded consciousness, instead of mochin d'katnut, constricted consciousness. And in that moment of seeing, all he can do is offer praise.

"How fair are thy tents, O Jacob / Thy dwellings, O Israel," he says. In this synechdoche, the patriarch symbolizes the whole. Jacob is the earthly, embodied side of the patriarch, the aspect that inhabits physical spaces. Israel is the other side of the coin, the part of the patriarch which wrestled with the angel of God and came away blessed. Where Jacob has tents, Israel has dwellings -- in Hebrew, Israel has mishkanot, like the holy dwelling-place of the indwelling Shekhinah.

Read the whole thing: On blessings and curses


Prophecy, writes the Sfat Emet (in Green's translation), "brings speech forth from potential to real." But in order for a prophet to have significance, there also needs to be an audience -- ideally, a receptive one. A prophet speaking in a vacuum isn't fulfilling his mission; that tree falling in the proverbial forest doesn't make a discernible sound until there are ears to hear. Balaam's prophecy was meaningful because it reached somebody's ears. In that sense, prophecy is inevitably a relational activity -- the prophet relates both to God and to the person or people who hear the prophetic words.

Read the whole thing: Prophetic (comedic) speech


If God gave voice
to my worn Birkenstocks

they would cry out
"what did we ever do to you..."

Read the whole thing: Sandals.