17 Tammuz 5772 / July 6-7, 2012
In this week’s portion, we find a sorcerer named Bilaam approached by agents of the Moabite king named Balak. Balak is concerned about the Israelites, and wants Bilaam to come and curse them before battle (back then, curses were a pretty big deal and were believed to carry significant power). Instead of cursing the Israelites upon seeing them per Balak’s wishes, Bilaam instead blesses them – three times!
One of Bilaam’s blessings contains a verse now used in our daily liturgy -- the Ma Tovu. “How goodly are your tents oh Jacob, your dwelling places oh Israel?”
Traditionally, we say this blessing as we enter into a synagogue’s sanctuary in the morning, expressing appreciation for having Jewish gathering places.
Many of us do not attend synagogue daily, let alone weekly. As a result, we miss out on an organized chance to offer up blessings on a regular basis. But the ability exists to extend and express such blessings on our own, out in the world.
Words have profound power. On the one hand, they have the power to express love, to pay someone a compliment, and to wish someone well. On the other hand, they have the power to hurt, denigrate, and bring down. Every day, we encounter situations such as Bilaam’s, where we have to decide how to use our words: do we bless, or do we curse?
This Shabbat, make a conscious effort to seek out ways to bless others. Whether it’s blessing your children before Shabbat dinner on Friday night, blessing those you know are traveling a great distance to have safe journeys, blessing the food you’re about to eat, or striving to be a blessing yourself to others in every way possible, find ways to infuse the world around you with your love, with your praise, and with your blessings.