This week our Torah portion is called Balak – and yet even as the King of Moab appears to be calling the shots, it is the character of Bilam that is more intriguing. Bilam is a wizard – millennia before Hogwarts – and his reputation is known across the lands. Bilam is commanded by the King of Moab to place a curse on the Israelites; the King is clearly fearful of their might, and he calls on Bilam to curse this people encroaching on his lands.
Bilam, with all of his magical and supernatural gifts, also appears to be in a conversational relationship with God. He will only act and speak what God allows, in juxtaposition to the Israelites, who quarrel, ignore and repudiate God, even after saying, “we will do and we will listen/understand” at Sinai.
There is an interesting juxtaposition as well in the characters of Bilam and of Moses. Each is a leader, each clearly has the ear of God, and yet as the story develops they clearly hold differences. Moses is a leader of many; Bilam appears to be alone in his magic. Moses may suffer being harangued and repudiated, but he is always in active relationship with his people. He is always striving to have them hear what he hears.
In contrast Bilam stands on a plateau looking down at the camp of the Israelites and sees in their tents not just an organization, not just order, but connection, families, tribes, a nation.
Bilam is that classic lonely man – he looks at this nation and in defiance of Balak, sings a song of praise. All his potions and all his incantations cannot give Bilam what he sees in the valley beneath him. He sees life. He sees what he might have – others have chosen to join this nation – and yet.
Bilam chooses to see this people and walk away, walk away from the people and the goodness he has just praised. For some, stepping into this tribe is too much.
And yet, unlike Bilam, some want to join us, step into our tribe, and share their purpose and love of Judaism with the rest of us. This week we welcome Chasida Shai Chapelski and Aidan Doduck into the tribe. And we celebrate with Charlotte Marcovitz as she comes of age in our midst. We welcome their families, as we welcome their souls to contribute towards our ongoing Torah, our story.
Blessings of joy to all,