I hope the summer is going well. I’m off to OSRUI for a couple of weeks and look
forward to writing to you from camp.
With the news replete with extreme ideas and zealous people, the Torah reflects the
power of the human spirit to return to its best moral self—with a little help from God.
Recently in parashat Balak, the Moabite King Balak aspires to bully our migrating
ancestors and sends the sorcerer Bila’am to curse them. To counter, God sends an
angel with a fiery sword and a talking donkey, and Bila’am comes to his senses,
realizing the Balak is wrong about the Jews. Bila’am blesses them instead, seeing the
better in them than the worse: Mah tovu ohalekha Ya’akov mishkenotekha Yisrael. How
good are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel.
Next, in last week’s parashat Pinchas, the priest Pinchas receives from God the Brit
Shalom, the Covenant of Peace, for a loyal and lethal act of religious zealotry—namely
he kills an Israelite man and a Midianite woman who intermarry. With the Brit Shalom,
God—many commentators argue—commends Pinchas for his passion. I don’t. While
defending and sustaining the integrity of the covenant is a noble pursuit, committing a
murderous act because two people of different faith backgrounds marry is not. Thus,
we might better understand the Brit Shalom here not as a badge of honor but as
warning sign—as a sober reminder to tame our religious zeal lest we hurt others in the
name of God or whatever (or whomever) else we worship.
Torah seems always to be on time. Today is no exception. May we seek blessings in
others when we might be tempted to curse them. And may we channel our religious
zeal into a passionate force for good not destruction. And even as we ardently defend
ideals like integrity and justice, let us do so with a balance of compassion, fairness, and
Make it a day of blessing and be a force for good.