This is the weekly Dvar Torah thread, feel free to share your divrei Torah here.
This week’s official Dvar Torah is:
I am a natural-born athlete, and cycling is my drug of choice. My legs, my heart, my lungs, every part of me just rejoices when I’m spinning at 90 rpm down some narrow, winding, bike path, with the wind in my face, and I swear, it feels like my soul is flying. About two-and-a-half, maybe three years ago I noticed a little bit of pain in my knees. Oh well, can’t be young forever, right?
Well, it turns out that it’s a bit more serious than just aging. January before last, I was coming home from work one day when my left ankle just started aching, with some of the most intense pain I’ve ever felt. Not long after, my back started hurting, and then my hands, my elbows, and now it’s just all of my joints, wherever there’s a tendon there’s pain. My doctors still haven’t settled on a diagnosis, so right now, I have no treatment plan. My career is over. I haven’t been on a bike in about six months.
It took a long time for me to admit what was happening. Accepting my condition felt like failure, which is something that doesn’t come naturally to me. After spending so many years building my body up, to have it fail is just terrifying. I can no longer depend on my body to do the things that I need to do. But what’s worse is that I have no idea what will happen to me. My life had a path, a direction, and now all of that has gone out the window and I’m left feeling alone and scared. The worst part about what I’m going through is the uncertainty.
In this week’s parshah, Balaam, son of Beor, is employed to cast a curse on the Jewish people. Israel was camping peacefully in the land, and Balak, King of Moab, didn’t like that one bit. He sent for Balaam and Balaam made his way to the camp. After some shenanigans, Balaam gets to the camp and, in spite of being hired to curse the Jewish people, he blesses them.
Balak, who apparently gets angry very easily, gets angry with Balaam. He tries to adjust Balaam’s situation, trying this and that, but Balaam repeatedly blesses the people instead of cursing them. Balak is furious, but he doesn’t understand that Balaam cannot curse the Jews. They are blessed by Hashem and no man can undo that blessing.
So Balaam tries to explain to Balak, and one of the things Balaam says while explaining really struck a chord with me. He says, “for there is no divination in Jacob and no sorcery in Israel.” Now, Israel, at that time, and really all time, had many good and many bad qualities. There are sins Israel commits and mitzvot which Israel fulfills. Why is this one thing pointed out? Why was this a reason Balaam gave for not being able to curse the Jewish people?
The answer is fear. When we live in fear, we open ourselves up to all sorts of chaos and misfortune. It is the gateway to sin. We fear the future, so we look to control it, to influence it, or even just to learn what will happen. The people of Israel, however, have no divination or sorcery among them because, even though they didn’t know what was going to become of them, they did not fear the future. They had their faith in God to guide them.
And what a momentous faith it must have been! Millions of people, all of whom were born as slaves, wandering the desert, and none of them, not one, was scared enough to try to divine the future or affect it with sorcery. The reason Balaam points out the lack of sorcery and divination is because it proves how massive the faith of the Israelites was! Balaam cannot curse them, not only because Hashem is with them, but also because they are with Hashem! The faith of the Israelites was too strong for Balaam to do anything but bless them, because he knew that a people that close to God were already blessed.
So how about now? What about me? I’m full of fear. And I have it a lot better than the Israelites did, let me tell you. My loving partner (BH) makes enough to cover the rent, so I’m not in any real danger. And certainly not leaving-slavery-to-wander-the-desert danger. Why is my faith so weak when my ancestors’ faith was so strong?
The truth is that it’s not. I don’t seek out divination or anything to try to learn or effect the future. I’m full of fear, yes, but if we think about it, our ancestors probably were, too. They just didn’t let their fear drive them to commit the sin of divination. And that’s where I can find myself and take some personal meaning from the parshah: It’s ok to be afraid. There’s nothing I can do to stop being afraid. But if I seek out and nurture my faith in God, I can get through the fear. Faith doesn’t negate fear, it makes the fear bearable. The Israelites lived with fear just like I do, but they marched on because of their faith. So maybe, if I try, I can, too.
Shabbat shalom, my friends. My your rest be full and meaningful.