WWOT – Weekly Words of Torah: Parashat Balak

To inspire, guide, engage, enrich, and empower Conservative Jewish Women
By Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields, Executive Director, Women’s League For Conservative Judaism

I am pretty sure everyone is very familiar with this week’s Torah Reading, Parashat Balak, since our Torah Fund pin and theme this year, “Mah Tovu,” originates from a verse in this week’s Torah Reading. Balak, the king of Moav, was scared of the approaching Israelites, and hired the greatest wizard around, Balaam, to curse the children of Israel. However, Balaam was tricked by a talking donkey, perhaps the inspiration for the movie Shrek, and Balaam could not curse the children of Israel, but rather, wound up blessing the Israelites. Our Torah reading has the blessing given to Israel, found in Numbers, chapter 24, verse 5, “How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel!” “Mah Tovu Ohalecha Ya’akov Meshkenotecha Yisrael!
Why would Balaam have blessed the tents, the homes, and dwelling places of Israel? There is an explanation that, since the Israelites were travelling, their homes were tents, but their openings never opened into one another. Therefore, people were always allowed their privacy, and could go about their business, without others seeing what they were doing. This concept goes along with my lesson last week for Parashat Chukat, in which I discussed the importance of sanctity, and holiness, and maintaining a level of modesty. The Israelites, despite the fact that they always lived in close quarters, and close proximity, to each other, still were able to maintain an amount of privacy, decency, and modesty, to go about their individual lives, and not having their tent openings, opening onto another neighbor’s home. Another explanation about the blessing of the Israelite tents,was that the tents were always metaphorically open to others – i.e., in terms of hospitality – so people always had a place to go.
Both are great messages for all of us in Women’s League for Conservative Judaism. Anyone who identifies as a woman, and as Jewish, has a place in our WLCJ tent! Mah Tovu! How good it is to dwell with all of you! Shabbat Shalom!
WWOT, Weekly Words of Torah will be a brief paragraph prepared weekly by our new Executive Director, Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields, presented in our “This Week @ Women’s League.” WWOT will provide meaningful thoughts related to the Weekly Torah Portion, an event on the Calendar, a Prayer, or something of Jewish interest, to inspire, guide, engage, enrich, and empower Conservative Jewish Women. If you have any particular interest in future topics, or want to send Rabbi Wolintz-Fields an email, you can contact her at ewolintz-fields@wlcj.org. Read previous Weekly Words of Torah here.