Parshat Balak: Ma Tovu Ohalecha, Yaakov


“Mah tovu ohalecha, Yaakov, mishkenotecha, Yisrael!” (How goodly are your tents, Yaakov, your dwelling places, Israel!)

The bright spot these past few weeks has been the display of achdut (unity). In this week’s parsha, there appears Bilaam’s famous words about the tents of Yaacov, the dwelling places of Israel.

Why was it that Bilaam was forced to praise the Jewish people in this manner instead of cursing them as he intended? Rashi says that it was because he saw that the openings of the tents did not face each other. This indicated that Bnei Yisroel did wish to look into each others tents. This in turn reflected a sense of unity without jealousy and with respect for individuality and privacy.

In his discussion of Balak, Rabbi Ciner cites the Nesivos Shalom:

“The forces of impurity that Bilaam tried to unleash could only affect lone, solitary individuals. Bnei Yisroel as a group and all those connecting themselves to that klal (nation as a whole) were immune.

That is what Bilaam saw–Yisroel dwelling as tribes. Peacefully, without jealousy, united as one large group with each sub-group contributing their unique talents and assets. When Bilaam saw that, there rested upon him the loving spirit of Hashem that translates itself into blessings, not curses.”

On,  in his post “reading Anti-semites,” Rabbi Ari Kahn  makes an interesting connection between Balak and modern day journalism. He notes that Balak is a glimpse into the minds of those who hate us. Earlier in Bamidbar, the meraglim feared that they were “like grasshoppers” in the eyes of the inhabitants of the land of Israel. But the Moabites are afraid of the Jews, who they think will devour everything around them like an ox eats grass. “Here, then, is the difference between the assessment of current events found in Jewish newspapers, as opposed to that found in the news outlets of our enemies: We project our own weakness in their eyes, while they see our power.”

Rabbi Kahn notes that this carries through to Bilaam’s blessing about the tents of Yaakov. “Bil’am sees a large camp that is unified . . . . The Torah does not whitewash or omit the many internecine struggles, revolts and transgressions that this camp had already survived. And yet, despite all of our perceived differences, the outsider sees us as a unified nation living in harmony and moving forward in solidarity.”

“Sometimes the best medicine for the Jews is to see the newspapers of those who hate us,” notes Rabbi Kahn. “It is there that we can read about our power as it perceived by others. It is there that we can be bolstered by the unity others ascribe to us. At the very least, by reading those newspapers, we will be reminded that we face common threats, and that the best way to fight these threats is look past our own small differences, and to utilize our power – the power we often forget we possess.”

This is a simple parsha dessert: chocolate cake, baked in a loaf pan and then cut into a triangle shape. To make the loaf into a triangle, cut the loaf diagonally to make the rectangular log into two triangles (here it is in cross section: first the end of the loaf looks like a square [_], then you cut it diagonally [\], then you have two right angle triangles which you put back to back like this /|\.) Take a look at this or this to see how the cake is sliced and turned into a triangle.

You can also make a no bake triangle cake with tea biscuits and a filling of pudding mixed with whipped cream.

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