Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–Balak

I find myself scratching my head in disbelief. As leaders of the world seem to be at each other’s throats, I watch as people across the globe align themselves on one side or the other, locked in step with the single-minded agenda of their “side’s” loudest voices. While we experienced the McCarthy era witch Hunt post World War II, I don’t believe that our nation has been this fractured since the Civil War (what a horribly inappropriate name for the bloodiest war in our nation’s history). Brothers fought brothers and, quite literally, dinner tables ripped apart over “which side” one subscribed. Lost in it all was the realization that we had chosen single-minded ideologies over and above any regard for the sanctity of life or dignity of creation.

Weekends came and went, as clergy of all different faiths taught the “Golden Rule” to flocks who came to pray. People would pray for peace on their Sabbath and then begin the next week slaughtering their neighbors. It seemed as though peace mattered, “only so long as I got to win.”

Those who spoke about the basic human dignity and respect we share as co-creations from the same divine parent got caught in the crossfire.

Today, people resort to screaming at each other and demonstrate little interest in hearing each other. At each other’s throats in our quest to bully each other, we are also oblivious to the ways in which power hungry “brokers” manipulate us into hating each other while they continue in garnering power unimpeded and even undetected.

So intent on defeating the “other,” we miss the opportunities for insight, wisdom, healing and peace that we desperately want to protect us, but cannot do so against our will.

We know better. If our national history was not enough to remind us of how sacred life should be, we get this week’s Torah reading as an exclamation point to the command to pay attention.

Often, better answers than our raw emotions can muster stand right in front of our eyes. Reason screams at us, but we get too emotionally invested to pay attention. In the parsha, Bilaam’s donkey is doing everything in his power to save his human master from certain destruction. Bilaam, however, remains intent on his mission and beats his donkey for getting in the way. Not until the animal screams at him in words does Bilaam pay attention, but by then, he had beaten and badly injured his trusted friend.

Are we blind to the damage we inflict on our society and on each other? Seriously, are we really okay living in an America ripped apart at the seams? Is winning more important than our neighbor’s dignity and sanctity? Did we learn nothing from a Nazi regime who referred to humans as animals because they looked, loved, prayed, or spoke differently than do others?

The end of the Bilaam story is, or should be, our prayer today. Despite his king’s orders to curse an entire nation, he looked out over his presumed enemy’s camp and realized that they, too, are blessed. Different is not bad, and certainly not deserving of being cursed. Different is just different. Shabbat shalom.