TORAH TUESDAYS: PARSHAT BALAK
BY HENNIE BLACK
“How goodly are your tents, o Jacob” is a verse straight out of this week’s parsha. This beautiful blessing has since been elevated to a morning prayer articulated by jews around the world each day.
considering that this blessing came out of the mouth of bilaam, a gentile prophet sent by the king of moab to curse the Jewish people, is fascinating.
what was so captivating about the “tents of Jacob” that inspired bilaam to overcome his initial desire to curse?
In this week’s Torah portion of Balak, the Jewish people are about to enter into the land of Canaan. They are approaching Moav, a land led by a king named Balak. Balak feared that he would be conquered by the Jewish people, having seen their victory over the neighbouring territories once ruled by Sichon and Og.
Balak does not want a repeat performance and hires a local prophet Bilaam to curse the Jewish people. When Bilaam tries to curse the Jewish people, blessing comes out instead. This happens several times. Bilaam gives the Jewish people beautiful blessings and words of admiration. One of these blessings we say each morning as part of our prayers: “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel.”
What did Bilaam see that led him to praise the tents of the Jewish people? Rashi comments that Bilaam noticed that the opening of their tents did not face each other. He saw that each tent’s opening faced a different direction, so that no family could look inside his neighbour’s tent. Bilaam was overly impressed with the modesty and privacy of the Jewish people. He understood that this was an integral and foundational value of the Jewish people, not to expose themselves and flaunt all areas of their life.
Today we live in a world of social media and sharing. If I didn’t take a picture and post it on Facebook or Instagram, did it really happen? Do I need to advertise and record every aspect of my life for everyone to see, or are there some things meant to be saved within the four walls of my home?
Beyond the issues related to over-exposure and privacy, our posts, tweets, grams, and Tik Toks may inadvertently hurt others. How sensitive are we when we share our successes and family milestones when others aren’t having the same good fortune?
The “goodly tents” of the Jewish people remind us of this special characteristic of the Jewish people: modesty, respect for the privacy of others, and discernment about when to share or not. Among the many qualities we are called on to cultivate in our mission to improve the world is this one.