This Shabbat we welcome one of the more colorful passages of Torah; Balak. Balak, the King of Moab, seeing what the Israelites had done to Amorites, called upon Balaam to “put a curse ” upon the Israelites so the Moabites could defeat the Israelites. As many know, just the reverse took place. Helped by a talking donkey, God and another angel, Balaam’s curse became a blessing. In fact, a blessing so important that it has found its way into our prayer service for upon seeing the Israelites’ camp, Balaam proclaimed: “Mah Tovu Ohelecha Yaakov…How good/fair/lovely are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel” (Numbers 24:5)
What does it take to turn a curse into a blessing? We just witnessed some of this in the aftermath of the Charleston church shootings. Some of the family members spoke of forgiveness regarding the shooter. President Obama’s eulogy spoke to the power of forgiveness and grace. Very powerful moments. Very challenging emotions to some of us. How do we turn a curse to a blessing?
I want to suggest that some of this does come with our own life experience. We look back on moments and events that may have angered us and we, instead of going to a negative, step back and pause. Experience may teach us that to dwell on a negative reaction or emotion may be more harmful to us. I have seen this with people I have dealt with during my rabbinate. People get to see things differently as they aged, a sense of perspective that teaches them to be grateful for the life that they are living and not to dwell on negative emotions. They have, on many occasions, turned and said, “I no longer worry about the things I cannot control. I am thankful for each day and I make the best of what I have”.
This is not, I am coming to believe, a “cop-out”. Indeed, it may be a very healthy way of living for it harnesses our emotions and strength on the here and now, not he issues and events that we can impact. It makes each day the focus of blessing, of gratitude and the fact that we give thanks for life. Not such a bad approach.
Rabbi Richard F Address