Torah: Balak

Torah: Moab’s King Balak commissions a prophet for profit, Bilaam, to curse the Israelites. Bilaam agrees, but emphasizes that his words come from God” (Numbers 22:18). Four times, when Bilaam’s words flow from his vantage point of the hills overlooking the encamped Israelites, blessings emerge. Among the most famous of those words are the mah tovu, “How goodly are your tents O’ Jacob, your dwelling places Israel” (Numbers 24:5). Those words are placed toward the beginning of our prayer book. Why are the words of a non-Jewish prophet often sung to initiate our worship? I surmise a pair of reasons: it is a communal blessing that echoes across generations and because in saying the blessing we are prompted to ask ourselves, Does how we live as a community prompt blessings from those viewing us? Words have power. May intended curses be stymied and instead, blessings flow our way.