This week’s Torah portion comes on the heels of a heartbreaking week of state-sanctioned violence. Deep exhale. And it contains within it one of the more famous verses from the Torah, "How good are your tents Jacob, your dwelling places Israel/mah tovu ohalekha Yaakov, mishkanotekha Yisrael".
The context for the verse is the unusual tale of Balaam. Balaam is a foreign prophet whom the fearful King Balak calls to curse Israel. But every time Balaam comes to curse Israel, blessings come out. In his final curse/blessing, he looks out over Israel and says the famous line that has become a standard part of Jewish liturgy.
This is a story transformation in which curses turn into blessings. A kind of transformation we need in this moment. Where our leaders look out at the great expanse of Turtle Island and spread the tent wide to all who seek refuge. In the words of another great prophet Isaiah, "Enlarge the place (makom/מקום) of your tent" (54:2). In the streets, in our sanctuary cities, in our places of worship, we are called to widen the horizon of our heart, our circle of concern and the site of our tent. We are called to be part of the prophetic voice that will transform these curses into blessings.
Rabbis Annie Lewis and Yosef Goldman composed this new melody for Mah Tovu in honor of this parsha in the spirit of transforming our political curses into blessings.
With some healthy ambivalence in the midst of these cursed times, I will be signing off after this email for a restorative month. Thank you all for the opportunity for deep rest and play. In my absence, members of the KT Board will be sending out their own inspired words of Torah each Friday. Additionally, Rabbi Michelle is available for all pastoral emergencies. For all other KT matters, email email@example.com.
For those who will spend tomorrow in prayeful protest, I offer you the words of one of my teachers and mentors, Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld who shared this prayer during an Interfaith Vigil at the Tornillo Detention Camp earlier this week:
"...Because we are parents ourselves
Because we are teachers
Because we are witnesses
Because we are weavers
Because we are threads
in the tapestry of Your creation.
We will stitch together what has been torn apart.
Dear God, please give us strength. Give us wisdom. Give us courage.
Gather us all in the embrace of your unending love.
Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad.
Listen, you who struggle,
And bear witness to the One God who holds us all."
May we all gather resilience from the Source of Transformation, the One that is, was, will be, be that Carl Marx or the Kadosh Barechu / Holy Blessed One.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Summer!
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.