David declared: "Seek peace and pursue it" (Ps. 34:15). The Sages comment (Midrash Lev. Rabbah 9:9): "Seek peace for your loved ones and pursue it for your enemies; seek peace where you live and pursue it elsewhere; seek peace with your body and pursue it with your resources; seek peace for yourself and pursue it for others; seek peace today and pursue it tomorrow.'' We are only on this plane of life once. Why should we live it with angst? Let us learn to live it in shalom.
''A person does not sin unless a spirit of insanity enters into him [Talmud Bavli Tractate Sotah 3a]. '' Let us be candid, we are taught not to hate or hold grudges in Leviticus but to love. Its hard to love sometimes, which is why the mitzvoth are followed with "I am the Lord your God.'' So when we hold grudges, we miss the mark. When we miss the mark, we become separated from God and our fellows. And the Talmud clearly tells us that a person living like this is insane, or as we say ''spiritually ill.'' One who dishonors another, is dishonoring himself and God, as well.
The famed R' Yisrael Salanter , of the Mussar movement, once said that the "eleventh commandment" is "Don't be a fool," which means that the Torah obligates us to use our intelligence and life experience to navigate our lives. We have learned much so far in this class. We have seen how we are the makers of our life's own discord. The Talmud tells us to stay away from an evil neighbor. What constitutes evilness in this day and age? The bar has sunk so low, that I am a rabbi, and 2500 years ago, I would be labeled an apikoret, a heretic. So let us , for our class, define evil neighbors as folks who will vex our spirit. When we hang with folks who have no derek eretz, and no spirituality, eventually our yetzer ha ra, which we try each day with God's aid to rein in, will re-awaken. As the saying goes, if you hang around a barbershop long enough, you will eventually get a hair cut.
Developing a Conscious Contact with God
God Listening Throughout the Day
Walking Hand In Hand With God
Doing His Will
Developing True Shalom and Serenity
Root Of Shalom = Shlema = Wholeness = Integrated, You Are No Longer Fighting Against Yourself
Proverbs 24:16 tells us that a person walking mindfully with God will fall seven times a day. This means that you may stumble, but you will not fail. Just get up and continue on your path. Continue being mindful of your thoughts and actions throughout the day and ask that "God may show us the way in which we should walk and the thing we should do." (Jeremiah 42:3).
Have you ever asked God to show you "what is right and good in God's eyes?" (Deut. 6:8). Keep this question in your heart, mind and soul throughout the day and you will be walking with God. He will give you the answers.
You will use what you have learned about listening to God through meditation in your daily routine. God is always speaking to you, but so is your yetzer ha ra. Use the four-way test (again, see Page 74) to determine if you are hearing yourself or if you are hearing God. Is it of peace, honesty, altruism and purity?
Moshe was buying stamps at the post office when he saw a middle-aged man methodically sticking stamps onto a pile of pink envelopes. He was also placing "I Love You" heart-shaped stickers onto the envelopes. When he had finished, the man took out a bottle of French perfume and sprayed all the envelopes with it.
Curious, Moshe approached the man and asked what he was doing.
The man replied, "I'm sending out 100 scented Valentine cards, each one signed, 'From you know who.'"
"Why so many?" asked Moshe.
"Because I'm a divorce lawyer and business is not so good."
Martin Buber said that when he reached out for God's hand, he found it waiting for him. This is what happens to those of us who take the Jewish Spiritual Renewal path. Buber developed an I-Thou relationship with God, which helped him develop an I-Thou relationship with his fellows. This is what you are doing with your Jewish Spiritual Renewal. You will no longer have I-It relationships with people. God loves us and wants the best for us. We learn to love and treat all people with kindness, even if the relationship is short. The Mishna (Pirkei Avot 1:15) tells us to greet all people cheerfully, the tollbooth attendant or grocery bagger as well as your friends.
You now walk through your days holding onto God's Hand in a spiritual sense and are able to do God's will daily. When you do His will things will go better for you because He gave us instructions for "our own good." You will still encounter those who will try to detract from you, and might find some old friends turning against you, but you will not be thrown off course. You will attract new friends who want to live a spiritual life. Spirituality is about attraction, not promotion. We are not here to proselytize.
You learned in the previous chapter that through meditation you become integrated. Your mind and soul are aligned to one purpose, living a spiritual life. Your soul is no longer searching for God because it has already found Him, your thoughts no longer wander into resentments, and your limbs take you in the direction that your soul guides them. With Godly integration comes Shalom, serenity, shlema, wholeness and Oneness with the One and Only True One. You are at peace instead of in battle with yourself.
Mindfully walking with God throughout the day means living in His presence. This involves the way you think. "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3). Thoughts need to be loving, selfless, truthful, void of ego, and pure. Walking with God involves steady progress and spiritual growth. It involves having to say no to certain worldly things that are bad for you. The Talmud tells us that one who is offered a fruit he has never tasted before, and does not taste it, has forfeited his place in Olam ha Ba – The World to Come (Talmud Yerushalmi Tractate Kiddushin 4). But the Talmudic sages, even in the age of Roman and Greek orgies, could not imagine a world in which the yetzer ha ra is extremely strong in the hearts of so many people and in many commodities.
King David on his death bed, said to his son, Prince Solomon, "Be thou strong therefore, and show thyself a man, and keep the charge of the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, that thou may prosper in all that thou do, and where ever thou turn thyself." (I Kings 2:2-3). Mindfully walking with God throughout the day means saying yes to God and no to evil.
Mindfully walking with God throughout the day, you will constantly see His gifts and you will constantly bless Him for them. From the chapter on prayer: "I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify Him with thanksgiving." (Ps. 69:30). When you bless God, do so with sincere spiritual intention – kavenah. The Ba'al Shem Tov (Rabbi Yisroel
Mindfully walking with God throughout the day, you continually remind yourself to have faith, trust, belief and experience in God and that He is indeed Adon Olam. You remind yourself continually that this is His universe, and to "Let Go, and Let God." When you worry or have doubt about the way God is running the world, it is driven by your yetzer ha ra. You need to push your ego and yetzer ha ra out of your heart so that you can serve God with complete joy. You must do this each day, sometimes many times a day, because ego and yetzer ha ra never fully go away.
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One definition of a smart-ass is one who can sit on a falafel and tell you the type of oil in which the chickpeas were fried. In this double portion we will read, among other things, about another kind of smart-ass; Balaam's talking donkey.
A close inspection of these two portions will show repeated juxtapositions of opposites. There is a subtle interplay of antinomianism, where good becomes evil and evil becomes good, and where the holy becomes defiled and the defiled becomes holy. This shifting takes place through kavenah (intention).
The first of these two parashot, Chukot, begins with the law of the Red Heifer. This d'var Torah series discussed many aspects of this strange ritual in the special Shabbat called Parah (heifer), which preceded Pesach.
The Torah story is now 38 years after the Exodus. Aaron and Miriam will die in this portion, and Moses is told that he will be dead in two years. Moses has taught the Jews that they become impure when coming in contact with the dead. Now he will teach them to become pure again, they must burn this perfect-looking red cow and sprinkle themselves with its ashes. However, the person doing the sprinkling becomes impure.
To explain this paradox, the Midrash sites examples of how evil fathers begot good sons, that is, Abraham from Terach, Ezekiel from Ahaz, and Josiah from Ammon. The Talmud reminds us that we are forbidden to drink blood because it is the source of life, but that we are allowed to drink milk, which is a baby's source of life (Tractate Niddah 9A). King Solomon said about this paradox in Proverbs 7:23, "I said I would be wise but it is far from me."
Rashi writes that when Numbers 19:14 says the cow should have no blemish; it means that it should be perfectly red in color. If there were two black hairs on it, the cow was disqualified. He then states that a Jew's perfection is disqualified by even a hairsbreadth of dishonesty or deception.
When Miriam dies, the portable well told of in Talmud Bavli Tractate Ta'anit 9A dries. The Jews, and this is the new generation, again rebel because of the lack of water. The old generation who griped and moaned is dying off, but their children sound just like them. God tells Moses to speak to a rock and ask it for water. Moses, who just lost his sister and is burnt-out by this job he never wanted, angrily strikes the rock twice. Water flows. God punishes Moses by telling him he will die in the wilderness and will not go into the Promised Land.
Recall that in Exodus 17:2-6, Moses also strikes a rock for water when God commands him to do so with his staff. This time God tell Moses to take his staff and speak to the rock. Maybe God was setting Moses up, giving him confusing instructions and giving him a way out of playing nursemaid to the Israelites. Ramban writes that this is the same rock from the Exodus story and the Hagar and Ishmael stories (Gen. 21:19).
The parasha is named for statutes (chuk) that were to be obeyed traditionally even if not understood. The word is related to "l'chakei," which means, "to engrave or impress." Moses improvised on his own personal chuk. God punished him perhaps as a lesson to the Israelites to obey the Torah to its very letter.
Aaron is given an almost immediate death. Aaron does not hit the rock, yet he is punished. The Talmud teaches that Aaron's sin is not blessing God when the water gushes out. This non-blessing seemingly causes the Israelites to think that the water comes from Moses and not from God.
The new generation did not witness the miracle at Sinai, the miracles in the desert, or the greatest miracle; the Exodus from Egypt. This is their first miracle. Water was to come from a rock by Moses speaking to it in the name of God, but Moses and Aaron stole the show.
The Israelites are again short on faith. They rebel over food as their parents did. God gives them a plague of poisonous snakes. Moses prays for a cure. Gods tell Moses to make a brass statue of a snake on a pole. If an Israelite looks at this image of a snake he will be cured from the bite of the real snake. One of our Ten Commandments is not to make any graven image. Our golden calf was forbidden, but this brass snake is allowed.
So far in our parasha we have learned of ashes that purify what was defiled and defile what was pure. We have read of a well that dried up when a righteous woman died and a rock that became a well when God was disobeyed. We are told that praying to a graven image of a snake will cure poisonous snakebites that came from praying – albeit complaining – to God for food.
There is a Talmudic doctrine of "mitzvah ha ba'ah ba-averah" – fulfilling a commandment by transgressing it. This is a concept of redemption through sin. Wherever great holiness exists, there is also great evil. The Talmud teaches that a body of a dead religious Jew gives more defilement to someone who touches it than a nonreligious person's body. The Ba'al Shem Tov, founder of Hasidism, wrote, "Evil is the throne of Good."
In Kabbalistic terms, there is constant interplay between the sephirot of chesed (kindness) and gevurah (justice). The rabbinic kabbalists believed that the Messiah would also purify what is defiled and defile what is pure in order to break the kelippah (husks) surrounding the nitzotzot (holy sparks) to do tikun olam (repair of the world).
We are traditionally taught that in the Messianic age, man will be so pure that the Torah laws will not be needed and even pig meat will be kosher. Talmud Bavli Tractate Nazir 23B states, "a sin performed for its own sake is greater than a mitzvah performed for its own sake."
The Talmud Bavli, in Tractate Moed Katan 28A, states that the reason Miriam's death is mentioned right after the Red Heifer is to teach that "just as the ashes of the parah adumah (red heifer) atones, so does the death of the righteous atone." The idea of a rabbi dying for his generation's sins is a traditional Jewish idea and not a foreign one.
In Torah terms, and certainly in agreement with the Kabbalistic viewpoint, death is a technical term to describe transition. The Talmud Bavli, in Tractate Bava Batra 15A, asks how, if Moses wrote the whole Torah, was he able to write about his own death? The rabbis compromise and decide that Moses got all of the Torah from God, but taught these last few verses to Joshua, who wrote them down.
But, according to the Zohar, one can die and still walk the face of the earth. The snake in the Garden of Evil gave us spiritual filth (zuhama). This prevents the body from rising to the level where the soul can bring it to a higher, eternal level (Talmud Bavli Tractate Shabbat 146A). When we rot in the ground we shed our spiritual filth and regain our ketonet ohr – clothing of light – that Adam wore before Eve chatted with the snake and they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Evil, Rabbi Moses Chaim Luzzatto (the Ramchal) wrote, has only one purpose; to be uprooted completely. We are to work to remove evil from its existence. During the Messianic age, he teaches, God will remove all evil and the world will "perceive His Unity and His perfection like a blinding light." Our Aleinu prayer near the end of our daily service calls for this to occur.
The human embodiment of evil is seen in our second of two parashot. Balak is the King of Moab (modern Jordan). He fears for his kingdom because he has seen what the Jews have done to his neighbors Sichon and Og. So he hires Balaam the Prophet to curse the Jews. To Balak, Balaam is his secret weapon.
Balaam is called a prophet because he spoke with God. God tells Balaam not to accept Balak's employment (Num. 12:12). When Balak heard that Balaam would not come, he assumed the price he first offered was too low and increased it. Balaam made a counteroffer. God then tells Balaam he can go, but only to say what God tells him to say (Num. 22:20).
Balaam "arose early in the morning and saddled his donkey" (Num. 22:21). While Balaam is on his way to curse Israel, his donkey sees an angel blocking the road three times. Each time the donkey veers to the side, but Balaam hits her anyway because he does not see the angel at first. Eventually he does see her, and his curses become blessings.
"Whoever has three particular traits is counted among the students of Abraham, and whoever has three other traits is among the students of Balaam. He who has a good eye, humility and contentedness is a student of Abraham, while he who has an evil eye, arrogance and greed is a student of Balaam" (Mishna Pirkei Avot 5:22).
The Talmud Bavli Tractate Sanhedrin 102B reminds us that Abraham, when he was commanded by God to sacrifice Isaac, also "arose early in the morning and saddled his donkey" (Gen. 22:03). In Hebrew the word for saddled (yach'vosh) is related to the verb meaning "to conquer." The word for donkey (chamor) matches the word for physicality (chomer).
When Abraham saddled his donkey, he conquered his physical drives of fear and love for his son in the service of God. When he went up to Mount Moriah he left his donkey, meaning his physical needs, behind (Gen. 22:05). Balaam gets up early to make a great deal of money by causing the destruction of others. Both Abraham and Balaam are tested ten times by God. Abraham passes each test. Balaam fails each test. The donkey hears the angel of God. The donkey is on a higher level than the prophet Balaam because it speaks the truth for only a daily bag of feed, while Balaam is prepared to utter curses for his bag of gold and silver.
Abraham's name means "father of the nation." Balaam's name is from the contraction "bi-lo Am," which means "without a nation." Abraham was known for his moral integrity, kindness, and loyalty to God. Balaam was a hired gun whose loyalty went to the highest bidder. The rabbis also say that his name means "swallow" (bilaam) as no matter how many times he was humiliated, he would not swallow his pride and admit that he was wrong.
Talmud Bavli Tractate Eruvin 13B says that God can tolerate many things, but He despises the proud. The Zohar points out that the last two letters of King Balak's name and the last two letters of Balaam's name spell Amalek, the eternal enemy of the Jews. The remaining letters spell Bavel, the Hebrew name for Babylonia, which was the first country to capture the Jews into Exile. Bavel also means, "to confound" (Gen. 11:09), as we are taught in the story of the Tower of Babel.
The Midrash teaches that Balaam was one of Laban's sons. That means Balaam was Jacob's bother-in-law. Balaam is the Children of Israel's uncle. The Midrash states that the stone wall that Laban and Jacob made to seal their truce is the same wall against which the donkey smashes Balaam's leg (Num. 22:25).
Jacob and Balaam studied together. But Balaam also learned to be hateful and jealous of Jacob from Laban. Balaam was a gifted student of the occult. It is taught that he was the advisor to Pharaoh who suggested enslaving the Jews. Pharaoh's other advisors were Jethro, who advised against Balaam, and Job, who remained neutral. The Talmud teaches that Balaam was one of two men who knew "da'at Elyon," God's holy knowledge. The other man was Moses. The Talmud compares Balaam with Moses.
The Talmud teaches in Tractate Beracoth 7A that there is an instant each day when God is angry, and if you curse someone at that instant it will work. Balaam knew how to judge this specific time. This moment is "one fifty-eight thousand eight hundred and eighty-eighth part of an hour." This is one sixteenth of a second. What curse could be pronounced in such a short time? The rabbis answer "kelahm," which means, "destroy them." When does this time occur, they ask? During the first three hours of the day during a moment when the comb of a rooster pales as he stands on one leg, they answer.
Rabbi Yehoshua wanted to curse a heretic who was continually harassing him. The Talmud reports that he therefore tied a rooster to the foot of his bed and tried to stay up all night to watch when its comb turned from red to pale. But just before that moment came he dozed off. The rabbis conclude that God never wants us to ask Him to curse anyone.
The text called Eicah Rabbah Pesikta 2 states, "there never arose a philosopher the likes of Balaam son of Beor." The Midrash says, "Balaam was granted prophecy for the benefit of Israel." Yet his she-ass reprimands him when he threatens her by asking rhetorically, "Am I not your she-ass that you have ridden all of your life until this day?" (Num. 22:30).
Balaam is perceived rabbinically in the Midrash as the last of the prophets of the non-Jewish nations who received revelation from God. The Midrash says he surpassed Moses in the wisdom of sorcery. Balaam's donkey not only could see the angel with her fiery sword but also understood his intention and refused to go past him. Balaam, the great prophet, could not see the angel and beat his donkey three times for bowing to the will of God. This donkey not only could hear, understand, and speak, but also had a soul greater than Balaam's. Balaam was on his way to sin, and his she-ass was trying to redeem him. This was one smart ass.
Again in this parasha we see a juxtaposition of good and evil. We read about evil becoming good, about seers who are deaf and blind, and about farm animals that are astute and wise. Balaam's speaking donkey left him speechless. Balaam eventually blessed us instead of cursing us. He said, in words that we hear every Shabbat morning in our service, "How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, and your dwelling places, O Israel."
Rashi says that Balaam really wanted to curse our houses of Torah study and our prayer houses. Rashi says if one really wants to kill the Jews, one should destroy our synagogues and Torah study. Why does evil persist? Why did God give permission for Balaam to proceed toward his goal? The Talmud Bavli, in Tractate Avodah Zarah 3A, asks why, if God does not play games with his creations, did He not stop Balaam immediately? The Talmud Bavli answers, "In the way in which a person wants to go, God will lead him there." (Tractate Makkot 10B).
The Bible contains few examples of the application of curses, but expounds upon numerous blessings. The Jewish prophet Elisha cursed a group of school children who mocked him, and 42 of them were eaten by two bears (2 Kings 2:23-24). Also, we have discussed previously the curse of the Sotah ordeal in Numbers 5:11-29, where the words of a curse written on parchment are scraped into bitter water and given to a woman who is suspected of adultery, to drink.
Life really is not a battle of God versus man or good versus evil. Life is an eternal battle inside each of us between what we know is right and what we know is wrong. It is man's battle against himself. We all have the power to curse and the power to bless. The Zohar also teaches that the best way a Jew can rid himself of the Amalek, Balaam, Balak, and Babylon inside us all is with yira (fear and awe) and ahavah (love) for God. The first two letters of yira, combined with the first two letters of ahavah spell "yira." The last two letters of yira and the last two letters of ahavah spell "ahavah."
When God tells Abraham to leave his home and go forth, he is promised that he "shall be a blessing" (Gen.12:2-3). When one dies we traditionally say, "zichrono/zicrona l'vracha – may he/she be remembered for a blessing." If Balaam's curses could be turned into blessings, perhaps we could turn our own personal adversities into opportunities for blessings as well.
At the end of parasha Balak we read that when Balaam fails to curse the Jews the Moabites send their daughters to entice the Israelites away from God. The men become attached to the idol worship of Baal P'or. The Talmud, in Tractate Sanhedrin 64A, explains that one worshipped this idol by defecating in front of it. One would clean one's self by using the nose of the idol for wiping.
The rabbis teach that food grows from the "accursed" earth. By eating food, we take the good from it. Our body eliminates the bad. They teach that manna was from God and was pure good. Therefore, the Jews during their 40 years in the desert did not have to eliminate bodily waste. So service to Ba'al P'or was 100 percent evil. If one could worship in this way one could free himself to do any act. Hence in next week's parasha we will read about the orgy with the Moab women.
A sad day on the Jewish calendar falls around the time of this Torah portion. This year it is June 29th. It is called the Fast of Tamuz 17. It is the beginning of the three weeks of mourning ending with Tisha B'Av. Tisha B'Av is the 9th of Av. Tisha B'Av is when both Temples were destroyed.
Tamuz 17 is when the Romans forced the walls of Jerusalem open. During this period traditional Jews do not shave or get their hair cut. No marriages are performed. No court cases are held. There is no rejoicing with music or dance. The wearing of new clothes or eating a new fruit, which would require a "shehechiyanu" blessing, are forbidden. This fast is not a 24-hour fast like Yom Kippur. It starts at sunrise and ends at sundown.
We are traditionally taught that many tragedies befell the Jewish people on the 17th of Tamuz. Moses returned from Mt. Sinai and witnessed the Golden Calf and smashed the Tablets. During the fall of the first Temple there was starvation. The animal sacrifices stopped, as there were no animals left. The Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem (the Babylonians breached the walls on the 9th of Tamuz). The Talmud, in Tractate Ta'anit, recounts that just before the story of Hanukkah, a Syrian governor, Apustomus, publicly burned a Torah as well as placed an idol in the Second Temple. Historians think it was really a Roman officer, but the rabbis censored themselves to avoid the wrath of the Romans and called him a Syrian. King Menashe placed an idol in the First Temple on this day. Menashe, the Talmud teaches, was one of three of Israel's worst kings. He murdered the Prophet Isaiah. It is interesting to note from a modern historical perspective that Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor, from which he planned to create a bomb to drop on Israel, was called Tamuz 17.
Our two parashot teach us that good and evil can be found paradoxically in what we have assumed to be evil and good. Evil exists in man, as God gave us the freedom to choose our actions. We can work to eradicate evil by choosing intentionally, with the force of kavenah, to make evil into good. We can, with kavenah, make the disallowed into the allowable. We do not have the power to keep bad things from happening to us. But we do have the power to decide how we will react to it. We cannot change the cards that are dealt to us or the way others behave. We cannot change the inevitable. However, we can control our attitude and the way we think about situations. If we make things awful, and make everything into a catastrophe, we will emote anxiously, angrily, fearfully, or jealously.
The Mishna teaches, "In a place where there are no leaders, strive to be a leader." (Pirkei Avot 2:06). We know wrong from right. Let our lives be for a blessing, even when we are cursed for doing so.
The Mishna teaches that God created Balaam's she-donkey right before the first Shabbat, along with Miriam's well. The Midrash teaches that God killed that multi-millennia-year-old talking donkey to spare Balaam the embarrassment of having people point to it and say, "There goes dumb Balaam's smart ass." God went to this great length to preserve the human dignity of a wicked character.
In this Haftarah, the prophet Micah (6:08) says that all God asks of us is to be just, do acts of loving kindness (ahavath chesed), and be humble. Let us try to live with Father Abraham's attributes of a good eye, humility, and contentedness and not Uncle Balaam's traits of an evil eye, pride, and jealousy. It is not always easy to do, but in both the short run and the long haul it is a healthier and a more spiritual way of living.
Shabbat Shalom and see you in two weeks, Baruch ha Shem.