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).
Lech Lecha tells the story of the birth of the Jewish people through Avraham’s prophecy. God tells Avram, “I will bless you and make you a great nation.” As Diane Bloomfield taught this week about Lech Lecha, “God is bringing in a radical new creation with different qualities of what it means to be a human being and the potential becoming of a Jewish nation that brings blessings into the world.”
His journey is not about where he has been or his previous actions but where he is going and the potential for the future. He’s a baal teshvua: someone who lives in the process of what he can become, not what he did, according to Diane Bloomfield.
The anxieties of abstaining from food and water on Yom Kippur (and enduring an expected heat wave in Los Angeles this weekend) start to dance around my head months before the actual holiday. As I try to do the important work of teshuva, I keep thinking: How am I going to prepare for and survive the fast?! How many late summer conversations do I have with my coffee drinking friends about their preferred caffeine withdrawal techniques?
Apples and honey: as I launch Neesh Noosh just days before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, I thought it would be appropriate for my first entry to be a simple dish. Rosh Hashana (head of the new year) celebrates the creation of the world. We are about to enter the Jewish year of 5775 for the world. What does a plain dish of sliced apples, dipped in honey, have to do with the awesomeness of the creation of the world? And why the seductive fruit that played a pivotal role in the future of the world and humanity?