Balak 5777 – English

By Rabbi Dario Feiguin
B´nei Israel Congregation, Costa Rica

Curses and Blessings
In Parashat Balak, which we read this Shabbat, Moabite King Balak hires the wizard Balaam to curse the People of Israel. 
When we lack sufficient energy or we run out of arguments, it seems we turn to insults, slander and curses, thinking that they will prove us right. 
This isn’t something new. It happened in Biblical times and, I think, ever since man has been man. It is part of our nature, part of the misery that defines our condition. 

Balaam tried to curse Israel three times.
Perched on a hill, overlooking the Hebrew camp, he tried to spew out curses. But the unthinkable happened: instead of that, from his mouth came words of blessing.
On his third attempt, he pronounced the well-known words: “Ma Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov, Mishkenotecha Israel” = “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!”
This cursing attempt that went wrong, we use to begin our tefilot in the synagogue. 
Think about it: on each religious service, we do not begin proclaiming the words of God, or praising God; we begin with the words of a non-Jewish magician, who originally meant to throw a curse at us, which were then mysteriously transformed into a blessing.
What I think is that this transformation does not come directly from the mouth of the aggressors, but from the wisdom, sensitivity and transformative capacity in each of us. 
Blessings are not sent to us. We, ourselves, if we set our hearts to it, can turn those curses into blessings. 
Like the tennis player who uses the force in his adversary’s blow to return an even stronger drive or backhand.
To think that things do not change is to fall into medieval darkness. We must not become “God’s Defense”. God does not need our defense. God needs us to listen to his message of love, sensitivity, justice, and kindness. 
We are not “Advocates of Faith”, here to tell others what they should feel, think, or believe. Dogmatic fundamentalism is millimeters away from political fundamentalism, which is like saying that from ideological violence to verbal and physical violence, there is only a sigh. History proves it. 
We must try to understand curses for what they are not, and to then turn them into blessings. 
The crisis for the Jewish World brought on by Netanyahu’s betrayal in not fulfilling the promise he made in January 2016 of creating an equal esplanade in the Kotel, thereby handing over the power of conversion in Israel to the ultra-orthodox establishment, are words for a curse. But the reaction of the Jewish World to this betrayal of his own values for circumstantial political convenience, is a tremendous and blessed opportunity to reformulate a crucial topic for Medinat Israel and the Jewish People. 
Because this is not about the Kotel. The Kotel is a historical and spiritual symbol. The access to the Kotel is not the point. The point is access to the Jewish People. It is the recognition; who gets to decide who is Jewish and how a Jew should live. If only a few decide, or the majority. 
The point is if we renounce the foundational values of the State of Israel, “lihyot am chofshi beartzeinu,” of being a free people in the Land of Israel for all the Jews in the World. 
The betrayal was a curse, but the reaction it has led to in the Jewish World, including and mainly within Israel, is, for me, a blessing. 
It is the chance to take advantage of the violence in this treacherous blow to hit back with a winning throw. It is definitely a chance for something to change, once and for all. 
This is what I take from this week’s Parashah: having the Chutzpah to transform a curse into a blessing. 
Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Darío Feiguin
B’nei Israel, Costa Rica