Balak: The Secret of Co-Existence



How often do our pride and egos get caught up in arguments to the point that the quarrel becomes an end in itself and we cannot untangle ourselves from the dispute? A rather innocent exchange, which begins as a simple disagreement often escalates into a full-fledged war, with no end in sight.

They tell the story of two life-long friends who, after many years, once had a small spat with each other. Each of them dug in and obstinately would not budge from their positions. It only got worse when they each shared their respective opposing positions with their families and friends, who supported and encouraged them not to compromise. This, of course, added fuel to the fire, emboldening each of these fellows, so that each was thoroughly and absolutely convinced that he was right and the other one was wrong.

Is this story familiar? Have you seen it played out in your life or in the life of others around you? If you have – and we all have – you may be surprised to learn that this week’s Torah reading offers an antidote to this disease of discord. And it couldn’t come at a better time, as we enter today into the “Three Weeks,” which commemorate the destruction of the Temple due to baseless hatred and divisiveness among the Jews.

This week we read in the Torah about one of the most bizarre and extraordinary episodes you will ever hear: How none other than Balaam – an evil sorcerer who was hired to curse the Jews – sees that the openings of their tents are not opposite each other. Upon seeing this, Balaam blesses them instead of cursing them, and declares: “These people are worthy to have God’s Presence (the Shechinah) rest upon them.”

What impressed Balaam so?

A fascinating teaching about the beautiful tents of the Jews (“mah tovu ohelecho Yaakov”) illuminates for us the law then when building a home in a common courtyard, one should not position a door opposite a door and a window opposite a window. And it offers us a powerful lesson for today, how to resolve once and for all divisiveness, even when we disagree…


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