WWOT: Weekly Words of Torah – Parashat Balak 5779

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

Parashat Balak receives its name from the name of the King of Moab, Balak, who the children of Israel come into contact with while they journey to the Land of Israel. Fearful that the children of Israel will overpower Balak and the Moabite people, Balak hires the seer, Balaam, to curse the children of Israel. When Balaam is on the way, Balaam is berated by his donkey, who sees, before Balaam does, that the angel, who God sent, was meant to block their way. Three times, from three different vantage points, Balaam attempts to pronounce his curses; each time, blessings issue forth instead. Ultimately, Balaam blesses the children of Israel with the well-known words, “Ma Tovu Ohalecha Ya’akov, Mishkenotecha Yisrael,” How goodly are your tents O, Jacob, Your dwellings O, Israel!” (Numbers 24:5). Additionally, Balaam provides the prophecy that the children of Israel will conquer their enemies. The Torah reading ends with the children of Israel partaking in sacrifices at Ba’al Peor. The blessing of Ma Tovu became the daily prayer recited when entering a synagogue. Balaam praised the tents of Jacob because the Israelites arranged their tents, so that they were both open and welcoming, but, at the same time, did not have the entrance of their tents facing each other, thus providing each tent dweller his/her own privacy, so that no one could see into each other’s tents. 

The concept related to Chesed in Parashat Balak is the value of hachnasat orchim, or hospitality. I hope that our Sisterhoods, our synagogues, and our homes emulate the warmth and openness that emulates from the words of the Ma Tovu blessing. I pray that we can make our Sisterhoods, synagogues, and individual homes good, kind, places where people are welcomed. Some chesed ideas for Parashat Balak: Create a phone chain of all the members of Sisterhood. Make sure that each member is called every Shabbat, for at least a week, if not every week. See how long this chain can continue. If each Sisterhood leader takes five people (and make sure someone has a leader in their group, as well), just to say “Shabbat Shalom, I was thinking of you!” How much nicer will our tent of Sisterhood be? Another idea is that each sisterhood member gets a secret sister, and, for this month, make sure that you give your secret sister something special for Shabbat – whether it be a bottle of grape juice, challah, a nice card in the mail, a phone call to say, “let’s get together.” Invite someone to go to a Sisterhood event with you, or suggest meeting up at Services. Call anyone you have not seen lately, sisterhood or non-sisterhood member, and invite them to get together for coffee, or, if you feel comfortable, to your house. This week of Parashat Balak, let us each pledge to do an act of Chesed related to hachnasat orchim, hospitality. 

Weekly Words of Torah is 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, and stay up-to-date with the latest WWOT theme, Chesed, here.