D’var Torah: Chukat-Balak Turning Curse into Blessing
When school let out in March for COVID-19, it did not occur to me that we would still be in a situation of a Zoom party for my daughter’s August birthday. Yet, here we are deciding how to celebrate in a socially distant way. That said, five months in, I am actually excited about the opportunity that this brings. This will be her first birthday in her new home in Maryland, yet she will also be able to invite friends from her old school in Houston. In true camp fashion, she already noted how we will need to create ice breakers for everyone to get to know each other. In this way, we are transforming what feels like a curse into a blessing or creating a “Mah Tovu/how wonderful” moment.
The words of Mah Tovu, which we say every morning in our liturgy, are first uttered in this week’s parsha. The prophet Balaam sets out to curse Israel at the behest of King Balak. But as he opens his mouth, he recites the words “Mah Tovu,” praising the Israelites instead. Additionally, his blessing is said while overlooking the entire Israelite camp. In this moment, he proclaims how great are the structures and how wonderful it is to see the people together. God, acting behind the scenes, creates this transformation and sends a powerful message about creating an unexpected reality. We learn that in the times we find it most difficult to acknowledge blessing, we can take a step back, look at the big picture, and uncover words of gratitude we did not know existed.
We have all lost a lot the past few months and I fear we could lose more. But, if we can wake up each morning, even on the most difficult of days, and say “Mah Tovu,” this moment of gratitude can shift our focus. Would my daughter prefer a big party, in person, with all of her friends? Of course! But, we can also appreciate the unique opportunity this year presents. We still have a long, scary road ahead and expressions of gratitude along the way can transform some of our fear into hope. I invite you to share your Mah Tovu moments with me, your family or each other so that we can enjoy the gift of blessing together. Shabbat shalom!