Adrian A. Durlester

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Random Musings Before Shabbat - Balak 5764

Bad Habits

I have a bad habit. Really, it's true! (Well, truth be told, I have a plethora of bad habits. But we'll save the rest of them for other musings and just focus one this one really bad habit.)

So what is this dark, troubling secret of a bad habit I'm going to reveal. Here I go. Ready? Ok, here we go. (Have I built up enough suspense yet?) My bad habit is...

I often respond too hastily to e-mail messages.

There. I've admitted it.That's the first step on the road to correcting a bad habit.

Technology is, or can be a really wonderful tool. It has brought many blessings. In fact, technology is a blessing. It also is, or can be, a curse. E-mail is a case in point. Sometimes, when you intend to send a blessing, it comes out a curse. And sometimes our e-mails intended as curses come out blessings instead.

All this was on my mind as I read the familiar words of parashat Balak this week. And this surely influenced the message I took away from this encounter with Torah, as you will see.

When the elders of Moab and Midian delivered the message/invitation from King Balak to Balaam, asking Balaam to come and curse the Israelites, Balaam does not respond immediately. Balaam asks the messengers to spend the night, allowing him the time to "consult" with Gd and formulate the appropriate reply to Balak's request.

When King Balak sends yet another, more important group of dignitaries as messengers to implore Balaam to come and curse the Israelites, Balaam again takes a night to consult with Gd before responding.

Sometimes, even a night and a quick consultation with Gd isn't enough time to ponder and formulate a response that's appropriate. Though, during their consultation, Gd permits Balaam to accompany the Moabite and Midianite dignitaries, the ensuing and well-known incident with Balaam and his ass demonstrates, perhaps, that Balaam may still have been too hasty in his "reply," that is, his decision to go with the messengers to see King Balak. Apparently, that's not what Gd wanted (expected?)

Another cautionary note can be drawn from the Torah's tale of Balak and Balaam. Balaam did, indeed, take some time and consult with Gd before replying to Balak's requests. Still, even with this effort to carefully craft and phrase replies in just the right words, the message wasn't understood as intended. King Balak didn't "get" the meaning/intent of Balaam's (and, in reality, Gd's) words. King Balak doesn't understand that it's not about money, reward, flattery, respect or anything of that nature. Balaam is saying that, even paid for his services, Balaam can and will only say what Gd has told him to say. King Balak clearly believes that every seer has his price.

Thus, there are valuable lessons for me, and, I hope, for you, dear readers, all throughout parashat Balak to remind us to not be hasty or trigger- (or send-key-) happy. We can take the time we need to allow Gd's voice to influence and inform our replies. Amidst the noise, hubbub, and rush of modern life, it's not always easy to discern that still, small voice. Yet it is so crucial to harmonious, loving human discourse that Gd, Torah, and Judaism inform all that we do and say (or write, "keyboard," "graffiti.")

When we fail to heed the cautionary reminders of parashat Balak, we may well end up needlessly flaying our own asses, and having them cry out to us, wondering what they have done or said that we are treating them so ill. We might find our blessings turned into curses. If we allow ourselves a little time to let Gd, Torah, and Judaism inform what we do and say, we may yet see our curses turned into blessings. Ken y'hi ratson. Ken y'hi ratsoneinu.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2004 by Adrian A. Durlester

Some previous musings on this parasha

Chukat 5764 - Man of Great Character
Chukat Balak 5763-Mi ChaMicah
Chukat 5762-The Spirit of Miriam
Balak 5761-Beating Our Donkeys
Chukat-Balak 5760-Holy Cow!
Chukat 5759/61-Wanting to See More Than The View From The Mountaintop

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