Weekly Torah Commentary – Balak July 3, 2015

Bamidbar/Numbers 22:2 – 25:9

In their journey to the Promised Land, the children of Israel have neared the border. As our weekly portion opens, they are encamped opposite Jericho in the land of Moab, whose king at the time was Balak. Being well aware of the conquests of the Israelites over other people groups, Balak would like to get rid of them once and for all. He has a formidable army so why doesn’t he attack?

The exploits of the children of Israel had reached his ears. Pagan though he was, he recognized that Israel had divine protection. They had to, he reasoned, or they would never have achieved their previous victories.
Rather than endanger his troops by sending them to attack Israel precipitously, Balak decided that first their spiritual protection had to be removed. Only then could he drive them away. He conferred with the elders of Midian and together they devised a plan. They would send for Bilam (Balaam), a gentile prophet, and instruct him to curse the people of Israel.

It’s no small thing that this pagan king recognized so many hundreds of years ago, 1) the power of divine protection and 2) the power of the spoken word. In earlier generations, it was understood that a word once spoken has within itself the power of its own fulfillment. I wonder what general or commmander today, facing an enemy army would even think about whether or not the opposing force has ‘divine protection’.

He sends messengers to Bilam with the request that he come quickly to curse the Israelits.

Words are powerful. Proverbs 18:21 says Life and Death are in the power of the tongue; those who love it will eat its fruit. We know that creation itself was spoken into being. Perhaps if we realized the inherent power in our spoken words, we might be far more careful about what proceeds out of our mouths! Selah!!

The Bible dictionary defines ‘curse’ as an invocation or proclamation to inflict harm upon someone or something. It is also described as harmful energy released against someone by hateful words, angry words, gossip and slander.

Blessing, by contrast, is a declaration of well-being, health, happiness and enlargement. The words ‘bless’, ‘blessing’, and ‘blessed’ occur 516 times in the Scripture. The words ‘curse’, ‘cursed’, and ‘cursing’ only 180 times and it is God’s prerogative, not ours.

Look again at the verse quoted above: Life and death are in the power of the tongue; those who love it will eat of its fruit. In other words, curses can backfire on those who pronounced them! Look at Psalm 109:17: He loved to curse; let curses come upon him. He did not delight in blessing; may blessing be far from him.

Clearly the better option is to bless. Overwhelmed as we seem to be at present, the need to bless is critical. To rant and rail against world situations that are happening is fruitless and frankly, a waste of time. Choosing to focus instead on the God of Israel and His presence in the midst of confusion and chaos, is far better.

In Tune with Torah this week = if you are not in the habit of speaking blessings over others, choose two or three people whom you respect and admire, determine to pronounce blessings on them through the week. God will take care of those who defy Him. For our part, I invite you to ‘move in’ to Psalm 37 and ‘park’ there for awhile. Practice speaking blessings over your family and friends and guard your tongue from any negative declarations of harm towards anyone. Bless the Lord at all times; may His praise be ever in our mouths.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — Mattot-Masei July 5, 2013

This week we complete the reading of the book of Bamidbar/Numbers with the last two Torah portions from that book, Mattot and Masei. Throughout these readings, the power of our words is a major theme.

Mattot opens with a discussion of vows. A vow is a solemn commitment to specific action for a specific period of time and for a specific purpose. While the making of a vow is not intended to be a daily or weekly occurrence in our lives, the underlying message is. In the opening verses, we read, “…according to whatever comes from his mouth shall he do.” We are obligated by the words that we speak. Or — a man’s word is his bond.

Speech is a defining human quality, an ability which is part of what is involved in the declaration: ‘in the image of God created He them.’ But speech is not only a defining human quality; it is also a manifestation of the Divine spark within us, the Divine Breath, as it were. “God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul” (Bre/Gen 2:7) The term in Hebrew is nefesh chaya which is also translated in some places as ‘a speaking spirit’.

God could have created this world any way He pleased. This beautiful planet could have resulted from just a Divine thought or the Divine Will. Instead God chose to use words to create our world and to create mankind.

We need to realize that every time we speak, we utilize the very same tool which God purposely and specifically chose to use in the very act of Creation! This concept deserves some serious meditation. This is the very reason why the Torah — and indeed all of Tanach (the Bible) — gives such importance to our speech.

We know that thoughts give birth to words, and words give birth to action. There is a process common to all of us: thoughts – words – actions. When God speaks, His thoughts, His words, His actions are in complete alignment with one another; in total unity all the time. His thoughts, words and actions are ONE.

Too often, ours are not. Hence, the commandment, ‘according to whatever comes from his mouth, that shall he do.’

Consider: We were created in His image and likeness. We are commanded in Torah ‘to be holy as I am holy’. We are called to emulate Him, to reflect Who He is to those around us, to be a light to the nations.

An essential element in our ability to fulfill this calling is inner integrity of soul. When our words say one thing, and our actions say something different, we are fundamentally violating the very purpose for which we were created and the very destiny to which He has called us.

To become more like Him, whose thoughts, words and actions are always in unity, we need to strive towards that same unity in our thoughts, words and behavior.

When our thoughts are disconnected from our words or our words from our actions, we are being fundamentally dishonest. That dishonesty may or may not affect others in a particular instance, but it ALWAYS affects us, our inner being and can even impact our descendants. To say one thing and then do another is the mark of an unreliable person.

In Tune with Torah this week = ask yourself – do I say what I think other people want to hear? Or am I straightforward in my communications? Do my actions reflect my words or not? Do I speak and act truthfully with graciousness and kindness or are my words and actions manipulated by what others will think? Or what I think they may think?? Learning to live with complete internal integrity is a lifelong journey and this week’s parshiot bring that challenge to the forefront for our meditation.

Shabbat Shalom