17 Tammuz 5778 – Balak


We recite his words every morning upon entering a Synagogue: “Mah Tovu ohalecha yaakov.. How goodly are your tents, Jacob; your tents, Israel” (Bamidbar 24:5).

Some of the most beautiful blessings towards our nation came out of the mouth of a Jew-hating visionary, by the name of Bilaam. He was hired by Balak, the king of Moab, to curse the Jews, yet when he opened his mouth, only blessings flowed through. Let’s look at one of his statements, the one mentioned above. Why the repetition – “tents of Jacob” and “dwelling places of Israel”?

Let’s analyse the choice of words for a moment and something fascinating will emerge.

‘Tents’ are temporary structures designed to be erected and dismantled in haste. ‘Dwelling places’ imply a more permanent structure and residence. The name ‘Jacob’ is a name connected with challenge and struggle (Jacob received this name after he emerged from the womb struggling with and holding onto the heal of his brother, Eisav). The name “Israel” is given to Jacob only after he fought against and defeated a rival.

In other words, Jacob – the one who struggles – erects temporary tents for G-d, while Israel – the one who has overcome – builds permanent dwellings.

Now let’s think about this. Into which category do we fit? How many of us can say we have an “Israel” relationship with G-d where we don’t struggle to see G-d’s presence in our lives as constant and undeviating? How many of us have carved out a permanent dwelling place for G-d in our minds and hearts?

I would say most of us fall into the “Jacob” category. Most of us are too overwhelmed with the stresses of daily life to be able to continuously breathe in a G-d-centred consciousness. The confusions of the heart, the pressures in the office, the burdens of holding a family together, the endless deadlines and many vicissitudes of life’s experiences, deprive most of us of our ability to remain forever inspired and spiritually switched on.

So you would think that it’s specifically the “Israel” personality type that would receive the most heavenly blessings, right?? Yet look at the order in the verse! First comes Jacob and then Israel! You see, G-d placed us on earth in a world full of struggle and challenges. This is our reality and it is also our destiny. We must do all we can to erect temporary structures along the path of life’s journey. The more tents we can erect in our lives, every day, the more Divine light we can bring down into our material universe. Indeed this is our purpose!

Wishing you and your families Shabbat Shalom and can’t wait to see you in Shul for an exciting Shabbat!!

Rabbi Yossi and Chana Raizel Friedman

Don’t forget our special guest from Israel this Shabbat (see our What’s On section for more information) and remember to secure one of the last letters in our new Sefer Torah – details by clicking here.

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