Sunday, July 01, 2007


Balak Blogging

Sorry about the lack of "inspiration" last week. And howd'y'all like the alliteration of this week's title?

Anyway ...

Coming up this week is the beginning of the "3 Weeks" leading up to Lag B'Omer -- the day on which all sorts of bad things have happened to the Jewish people. It certainly is a cursed day. But this last Shabbos -- the Shabbos often coming before the Fast of Tammuz, we read Parshas Balak, in which Balaam wishes to curse the Israelites but instead blesses us.

So why sometimes the curse and sometimes the blessing? Is it that it ought to be only God's power to curse? Is a blessing or a curse something we bring on ourselves (c.f. the various interpretations of "God hardening Pharoah's heart) -- maybe karma misses the mark and the bad deeds of some result in bad occurances for others and sometime things snowball (one aveirah begats many more ... one mitzvah begats many more) -- but ultimately we have a choice before us? (c.f. Deuteronomy ... associated via hypothetical authorship with Lamentations read on Tisha B'av).

Or is being blessed vs. being cursed what we hear for ourselves. I seem to remember some Midrash that Balaam did utter curses but blessings were what was heard. This reminds me of that old Chinese allegorical painting, "The Vinegar Tasters": to a Buddhist, life, like vinegar, is bitterness; to a Confucianist, sourness, to a Taoist, sweet. Perhaps to make life a blessing and not a curse, we should follow Halacha (a direct translation of Tao, nu?) and thus life will appear sweet?

But, c.f., my previous post: purposefully deluding oneself that everything is ok is a disastrous form of conservatism -- not everything is unbroke and somethings do need fixing. Perhaps what "The Vinegar Tasters" is missing is a Jewish vinegar taster ... the Jewish vinegar taster, like the Confucianist one, does not deny that vinegar is sour, but rather embraces the sour reality of vinegar -- and maybe adds some oil and some seasoning and makes some good salad dressing! Life may be sour, but sourness has its place and we can always work to make life sweeter and engage in Tikuun Olam.

Turning vinegar into salad dressing ... making lemonade from lemons (to reference the more conventional saw) that is how we can make a curse into a blessing, isn't it?

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