Balak: Bless or Curse

Balak: Sweet and Spicy Swiss Chard

Balak: Sweet and Spicy Swiss Chard

This was originally published on the Joy of Kosher website.

In this week’s parsha, we read the story of Balaam, who is asked by Balak to curse the Israelis.  Despite his intentions to vilify them, Balaam’s words become blessings. Balaam’s story makes clear that God gave us free will and we have the choice to give blessings or curses in the world.

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, in his book, The Everyday Torah, summarizes God speaking with Balaam as “’The choice is yours, human. You are free to decide for yourself. ‘ In the words of the Talmud, ‘A person is led the way s/he wishes to go.’” (p. 263).

Swiss Chard. Spiral Path Farm, Bethesda, MD Farmers Market

Swiss Chard. Spiral Path Farm, Bethesda, MD Farmers Market

Balaam’s choice to bless or curse is also symbolic of each of our internal challenges and how we respond to what we see in the world. “This war goes on every day. It also takes place within the individual Jew, and we have to arouse the quality of grace every day” (The Language of Truth: The Torah Commentary of the Sefat Emet , translated and interpreted by Art Green, p 258).  Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, taught, “the balance between good and evil is maintained at all levels, in order to ensure free choice at every stage along the way” (Anatomy of the Soul, by Chaim Kramer with Avraham Sutton, p. 165).

Rabbi Art Green notes, “We in our very imperfection, amid our own messy and imperfect lives, are images of God. Only a God who knows an inner wrath with which He is not content can be with us as we struggle each day for the little victories above grace and over impatience and anger” (p. 259). Living with these options, we can transform wrath and jealousy to compassion and love.

Moreover, this week’s parsha emphasizes how we respond to what we see in the world. Again, we have the option to choose good or evil.  “Balaam brought the blindness of his eye upon himself. He was struck sightless because he tried to cast an evil eye on Israel” (In My Flesh I See God, p. 114).

White and purple onions. Bethesda, MD Farmers Market

White and purple onions. Bethesda, MD Farmers Market

The recipe that I created plays off the themes of blessings versus curses and how one sees in the world.  The primary ingredient is Swiss chard. It’s sprinkled with chili flakes, representing curses. This flavor is overwhelmed, though, by the sweetness of date syrup and tahini, symbolic of blessings. The slivered almonds and raisins in the dish look like eyes, representative of how we act upon what we see in the world.

Sweet and Spicy Swiss Chard

This Swiss chard recipe is the perfect combination of sweet and a hint of spice. The raisins and date honey paired with the red pepper flakes or, for more spice, schug, brings out the delicious flavor of the Swiss chard.


1 large bunch of Swiss chard leaves, washed and chopped (including stalks)
1 medium white onion, chopped
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1-2 teaspoons red pepper flakes or schug
2 teaspoons date syrup
3-5 tablespoons tahini
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Balak Sweet and Spicy Swiss Chard

Balak Sweet and Spicy Swiss Chard


1. Wash Swiss chard leaves and stalks. Finely chop onion and stalks. Chop Swiss chard leaves.

2. Over low heat, add olive oil, onions and Swiss chard stalks. Saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add chard leaves and cook until lightly wilted, about 4 minutes.

3, Add almonds and raisins and continue to cook for another few minutes. Add red pepper flakes, date syrup, salt and pepper. Mix well.

4. Add tahini. The amount will vary based upon how much of the chili pepper  taste you’d like to have in the dish. Mix well and cook for another minute.

5. Serve warm.






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