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An Abundance of Blessings

An Abundance of Blessings: Mindfulness and Parshat Balak

In this week's Torah portion, Balak, Balaam is approached by King Balak of Moab to curse Bnei Yisrael, the people of Israel. Balaam was a pagan prophet whose fame reached far and wide.

Balak feels threatened by Bnei Yisrael– this strange and vast people who were enslaved in Egypt and who “cover the face of the earth” .

I know that whoever you bless is blessed and whoever you curse is cursed,” Balak tells Balaam.

Balak promises riches to Balaam in exchange for cursing Bnei Yisrael..

Balaam explains that he can only say words that G-d approves of ("I cannot go beyond the word of G-d”).

Three times Balaam goes to curse the people and three times instead of cursing them, he blesses them.

The third time he says: “מַה־טֹּ֥בוּ אֹהָלֶ֖יךָ יַעֲקֹ֑ב מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶ֖יךָ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, Israel.” (Numbers 24:5)

Did Balaam really believe what he said, or were these words put in his mouth by G-d that he merely articulated?

Well known Jewish commentator Rashi says that Balaam did see good in Bnei Yisrael. He took a deep look and noticed something small– that there were spaces between the tents, affording the people privacy and allowing them to conduct their lives modestly.

Whether or not Balaam understood the blessings that G-d placed in his mouth,

what we can learn from this story is the idea of taking a deeper look at all the things around us. Where can we rediscover the good in our homes, neighborhoods and society? What assumptions deserve a fresh look and deeper reflection?

Another lesson from this week’s Torah portion is to cultivate our belief in the power of blessings and love. Balaam set out to give curses, but in the end delivered blessings.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks comments that G-d is teaching us that love can turn curses into blessings. “It is the only force capable of defeating hate. Love heals the wounds of the world.”

We are often compelled in today's world to be consumed by our fears and to think in terms of “us versus them”.

How can we develop our capacity to appreciate what we have around us? How can we turn our inclination to curse into a tendency to bless?

Mindfulness can help us to perceive things as they really are, and notice and appreciate things that we might take for granted. As a result, we might be inclined to recite blessings, such as “How goodly are your tents..”

Loving kindness meditation is a practice which involves repeating a set of phrases sending out blessings for you, people you care for and all beings, such as be happy, be peaceful, and be healthy.

Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness, explains:

…”the practice of loving-kindness is about cultivating love as a strength, a muscle, a tool that challenges our tendency to see people–including ourselves–as disconnected and isolated from one another. Loving-kindness is about opening ourselves up to others with compassion. “

We will now do a loving kindness meditation together.

Take a moment to settle in . Getting comfortable in your chair or wherever you’re sitting.

Checking your posture . Sitting straight, shoulders relaxed.

Taking a moment to notice your breath. (pause)

Observing the rhythm of your breath.

Allowing your breath to flow naturally, and reciting inwardly the following phrases directed to your own well-being. Beginning with yourself. You begin with yourself because without loving yourself it is difficult to love others.

You can create your own phrases that you connect to and best open your heart. Repeat these phrases over and over again, letting the feelings permeate your body and mind.

So sending yourself these blessings:

May I be safe and free from harm

May I be healthy in mind and body

May I be free from suffering and live with ease

May I be happy.

May I treat myself kindly and compassionate