Monday, June 21, 2010


... otherwise known as "The Talking Donkey and What She Saw"

This really seems out of place - more Disney than Torah, not to say that Disney doesn't sometimes have important ideas to present (just saw Toy Story 3 with my grandson, and was it ever a powerful story about what is really important, loyalty, growing up, and other good stuff)
So this fellow and his donkey are on their way to curse the Israelites, having been paid for doing so by a local king.  Only it doesn't happen the way the king thought it would.  And it's not that he didn't try - he offered money, sacrifices, changes of location - nothing worked.  Instead of cursing the Israelites, Balaam blesses them.  And he does so with words that are familiar to many of us - "Mah tovu ohalecha Ya'akov"
There are many lenses through which to read these words:

  1. In what way is your 'tent' good?  Here is a commentary that may provide some perspective
  2. In what way is your 'tent' welcoming?  Here is what Rabbi Karen Citron understands the words to mean
  3. Does it matter who is admiring your 'tent'?  Rabbi Mindy Avra Portnoy points out the hesitancy some have when words of support come from the 'other'.
  4. Eizehu asheer?  Hasameach b'chelko.  This quotation from Pirkei Avot teaches that the rich person is the one who is happy with what he or she has.  Another way of saying the same thing:  The successful person gets what s/he wants.  The happy person wants what s/he has.  What's the difference?
Some Questions to Think About:

  • How can we decide what we should be proudest of in our lives?  Is it possible in today's world to continue to value the 'good' over the 'plenty'?
  • How inclusive do we want our community to be?  How exclusive?  How can we balance our separate identity within a society that seems to want us to all be similar?
  • What is the appropriate reaction when someone we might consider an 'enemy' speaks words of praise?

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