Here is our weekly "5-Point Parasha", a short list of what we are enjoying or pondering, as it relates to life and Torah.
What Cantor Heather thinks about Balak and the Body…
This week’s parasha retells the famous story of the prophet Balaam and the miraculous incident of the talking she-donkey. In a recent discussion, Rabbi Sam Feinsmith pointed out that, while the parasha uses the feminine noun ahton when referring to Balaam’s donkey, the more general term is chamor which in turn shares its root with chomer meaning “material” or “physical.” Through this connection Rabbi Feinsmith suggests that the parasha can be interpreted as a parable on our relationship with our bodies — our material selves. Just as Balaam initially ignores the initial warnings of his donkey — beating her for insubordination, rather than inquiring as to the reason for her resistance — we too often ignore what our bodies tell us about our surroundings and experience. Our bodies, after all, are part of divine creation — “create in the divine image.” Perhaps if we can be more attentive to the sensations and emotions our bodies transmit, we could better hear the voice of Hashem?
Rabbi Sam Feinsmith teaches for the Institute of Jewish Spirituality and regularly leads their weekly online Meditation session. Here's the link for more info: https://www.jewishspirituality.org/weekly-meditations/
Why Rabbi Schachar feels that this parasha is so relevant to our times:
Montreal-born Rabbi David Wolfe-Blank, z"l, explains that Balak represents the embodiment of fear, and in this week's parasha, specifically the fear of nomadic immigrants (the People of Israel). Instead of cursing newcomers and wanting to "send them back", the parasha ultimately reminds us of the gifts that immigrants can bring--"ma tovu ohalecha Ya'akov, how good are your tents O Jacob."
Rabbi Schachar's take about where we are in the Jewish Calendar :
This Shabbat marks the 17th of Tammuz (Shva Asar B'Tammuz), during which we normally fast, but the fast gets deferred to Sunday this year. This begins a period of 3 somber weeks, culminating with the commemoration of the destruction of the Temples on Tisha B'av. These weeks are associated with the tragic prophecies of the Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) Hanavi.
What does Yirmiyahu have in common with Rabbi Arthur Waskow, who will be visiting Montreal this September? They both have been arrested by the authorities...though Rabbi Waskow many more times than Yirmiyahu--in fact, a total of 25 times!
I'd like to share the first chapter of Rabbi Waskow's modern re-rendering of Eicha/Lamentations, attributed to Yirmiyahu:
Eichah: Alas, she sits in danger.
Earth, home to multitudes,
like a beloved, deep in distress.
Blue ocean, source of life –
Endangered and imprisoned.
Bitterly she weeps in the night
Her shorelines wet with tears.
Of all her friends, none to comfort her;
All her allies have betrayed her.
flee their homes;
can find no rest.
Because our greed has heated Earth.
Whole communities destroyed
To pursue off-shore oil.
Lives and dreams have been narrowed.
Coastlines mourn for families,
lost homes and livelihoods.
Barrier islands lament, desolate.
Wetlands sigh without their song birds.
Estuaries grieve, the sea is embittered.
Earth’s children – now her enemies;
Despite destruction, we sleep at ease.
The Breath of Life grieves
our abundant transgressions.
Infants of every species,
Captive to our conceit.
Hashivenu Yahh elecha v’nashuva, chadesh yameinu kekedem
Let us return, help us repent.
You Who Breathe all Life;
Breathe us, Breathe us,
Breathe us into a new path –
Help us, Help us,
Help us Turn to a new way of living
Make new, Make -new,
Our world of life intertwining –
Splendor, beauty, joy in our love for each life-form.
For the rest, click here.
Chana Alper-Orenstein shares her recording which will soon be released in our Music to Our Shirs retreat album:
Appropriate for the tragic three weeks that we now enter in the Hebrew calendar, this Yiddish song commemorates the terrible Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire that killed 146 people in New York City in 1911. Amazingly Chana is able to accompany herself on the piano after only 4-5 piano lessons with Mary Beth.
To hear the recording, click here.
A quote Rabbi Schachar is pondering:
"Reb Zalman was never one for small talk. I remember him asking me, on at least a couple of occasions, as I sat in the passenger seat of his car, accompanying him on one of his errands, his famous query, 'So, what is your question?'"
— Sharon Alexander in Wisdom of Reb Zalman, p 43.