Parshat Balak – A United Camp
In this week’s parsha, Balak, the king of Moav, sends the sorcerer Bilaam to curse the Israelites. Balak is afraid of an impending war with the Jewish people, and he attempts to use Bilaam to hobble them spiritually. While on the way to fulfill his mission, God appears to Bilaam, warning him not to curse the Jewish people, and that if he tries, God will ensure that Bilaam will only be able to say what God dictates to him.
Famously, God alters Bilaam’s abilities such that Bilaam is only able to offer blessings to the Israelites instead of curses, and upon arriving at a hill overlooking the encampment, Bilaam finds himself able only to offer beautiful blessings for the Jewish people. Balak tries again in a different location, only to have the same result. Finally, upon trying to curse the Israelites a third time, Bilaam opens his mouth to find that instead of a curse, all he can say is “How lovely are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling-places, Israel…Those who bless [them] shall be blessed, and those who curse [them] shall be cursed.” With that, Balak gives up and sends Bilaam on his way.
Our commentators teach us that what made the Israelites’ tents so “lovely” was that they were open to one another, each family invested in the welfare of their neighbors. The encampment of Israel, though comprised of twelve tribes and thousands of families, was united. The fact that this view was the final straw that convinced Balak that the Jewish people could simply not be cursed shows us the power of this unity, this sense of shared purpose and destiny in the camp.
Here at Yavneh, we’ve just begun the next step in our destiny in this first week of the summer. We’re all settling into our “tents,” our bunks, aydot, chugim, roles in how we will build our community together. This parsha is teaching us the value of building this unity in everything we do. It’s not just a blessing, but the very reason we deserve to be blessed. This summer, as we get involved in all our activities, we must each keep this value of unity in mind, sharing in one another’s welfare, keeping our tents open to each other. Shabbat Shalom!
Questions for the Shabbat Table:
- Do you think that the unity of the Israelites would have been so overwhelming to Bilaam if we had all been in a single tent instead of in our own tents, each open on all sides?
- How can you make your “tent” at Yavneh more open to those of your neighbors?