Gathering Sources: Balak

Some thoughts and resources for exploring the Torah portion, Balak (rarely spelled differently, sometimes: Balaq), Numbers 22:2-25:9. This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2010 series called “Opening the Book.”

Balak is next read in most of the Diaspora the week of Shabbat July 20, beginning with mincha July 13.

Something to Notice: Seeing and Gazing

A Path to Follow: Moabites and Ammonites

Great Source: “Opening the Tent

Language and Translation: Theme, Parable, Rhapsode

Michel Wolgemut, Wilhelm Pleydenwurff
– Bil’am et l’Ange Balaam, the Angel and the Ass;
Woodcut from the Nuremberg Chronicle

See also

Balak, Dead50, and Frederick Douglass

” The Tents and Dwellings and YOURS (and they’re plural)”

Pinchas and the scary friend

My original plan, when I was assigned Parashat Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1) to offer a dvar Torah, was to skip over Pinchas and his spear and the matter of God and human vengeance. But that’s not how things worked out. I was drawn in to the Pinchas story first by a brief commentary:

And Israel attached itself unto the Baal of Peor [Numbers 25:3]. R. Eleazar ben Shammua said: Just as it is impossible for a wooden nail to be wrenched from a door without loss of some wood, so it was impossible for Israel to be wrenched from Peor without loss of some souls.
– from The Book of Legends (Bialik & Ravnitsky, 628:175)
— based on Babylonian Talmud Eiruvin 19a

Continue Reading

The Tents and Dwellings are YOURS (and they’re plural): Balak Prayer Links

Perspective — who can see what? who is MEANT to see what? and what might it all mean, anyway? — is a key element in parashat Balak. No one (except God, who is not sharing everything) has the “whole view.” And we are reminded of this even in the words which have become part of our morning prayers.

[I realize that this note is arriving in the week of parashat Pinchas, BTW. Sorry. These remarks on the prayers will, I hope, be relevant at most any time.]

“How goodly [fair, wonderful] are your tents, O Jacob,” the seer Balaam pronounces (Numbers/Bamidbar 24:5), making clear that he can see the entirety of the camp…during this attempt to curse the Israelites; during the previous attempt he could see only a “sliver” (Bamidbar/Numbers 23:13-24) The Israelites, in their own tents in the valley below, have no such vantage point.

In a similar vein, Lawrence Kushner and Nehemia Polen note that in many synagogues, “Mah Tovu” — Numbers/Bamidbar 24:5, followed by Psalms 5:8, 26:8, and 69:14 — is recited while participants are gathering and donning their own prayer shawls. Therefore:

…people rarely have an opportunity to survey the entire scene. To someone watching is (from above) however, all those Jews would appear to have literally made their own personal tents! “How wonderful are your tents, Jacob!”Continue Reading

Balak: Great Source

The Torah: A Women’s Commentary includes a “Contemporary Reflection” with each weekly portion. Sue Levi Elwell’s essay on Balak offers a challenge “to move beyond the narrow, dichotomous thinking that blinded Balak and Balaam in this portion” (pp.956-957):

Are we ready to open our tents and our hearts to those who wish to dream — and then to build sacred communities that not only tolerate diversity and difference but also celebrate them?

In this spirit, Be’chol Lashon/In Every Tongue, advocates for “the growth and the diversity of the Jewish people.”

UPDATE 2019:
Older, now defunct, resources removed. Newer materials here:

Jews of Color Field Building Initiative resources;
Keshet LGBTQ-inclusive resources;
JConnect disability inclusion resources;
Reform Movement’s Audacious Hospitality program.

The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.