Mah Tovu: An Organismic Whole

The following comes from Reb Zalman on this week’s Torah portion, Balak.  [NOTES by Gabbai Seth Fishman

When Balak called on Bilaam to come and curse the people, 

Balak, as we get it  from the Torah, was an Aramean, because Pethor, the city where Balaam was, was near the Euphrates and not quite where the Moabite country was.

[NOTE:  Numbers 22:5, “Balak sent messengers to … Pethor, which is by the river of the land of his people.”]

now there are several words being used for curse:

The Zohar has a remarkable thing about how Balak was a magician. 

[NOTE:  Zohar Balak (3:184b) states that Balak was called “ben Tzipor because he would use a bird as a means to perform his magic and he also understood wisdom by way of a bird.]

For Balak, there was something impossible at that point about handling the Jewish people’s presence, and therefore, he wanted to have a kind of curse put on.  Not everybody believes that verbal curses or magic and voodoo can really influence things, but this is exactly what Balak wanted; he really believed that curses work.

The lightest curse is kal, l-kalel, which comes from “making light off,” and just sort of like, “insulting.”

The next one is arur which is really much stronger.  And it was this second kind of curse, arur, that Balak wanted to do. 

Aror is to remove the protection from somebody.  A person under the influence of a curse of Arur will not then be protected.  Then, the karmic power that was to have taken vengeance on a person is able to do so. 

Nokev is the strongest one, as he says “kavah li.”

Kavo is the strongest one because it makes a hole in the life-envelope of the person and draws out the blood, similar to the way the blood is taken out when a person is slaughtered.  The blood is life-blood so when it is removed, the life energy is taken out.  That’s the curse associated with Kavo.  

Bilaam wanted God to agree that there should be a Kov, but God didn’t even agree to Arur

And so, back and forth between God and Bilaam, we find him in a situation where he is struggling to find a place from which he can begin to curse, a place from which he can begin to hurt.

And this is true even today.  When we look at the way people who want to harm Israel are dealing with us, they’re always trying to find a vantage point from which they can say that what we are doing is bad and is wrong. 

Though Bilaam was promised more gold and silver than he could carry, 

[NOTE: cf., Rashi quoting Tanchuma on Numbers 22:17]

even in him, there was a certain kind of truth-seeking when he says, I cannot do anything but what God puts in my mouth.

[NOTE:  E.g., Numbers 22:38, and ff.]

What was it that he saw that made him finally say, (Numbers 24:5), “How good are thy tents, oh Jacob, thy dwelling places Oh Israel?” 

The answer is that when he saw that the people were dwelling in tribes around the sanctuary, that was so powerful for him:  He saw the beauty and the integration of it all. 

And he saw the ideal of how a people should exist, namely in tribal forms around the sanctuary. 

Now what are tribal formsEvery tribe had its own connection to a sign of the Zodiac.

[NOTE:  Twelve Tribes: Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Reuben, Simeon, Gad, Ephraim, Menasseh, Benjamin, Dan, Asher, Naftali. Twelve Signs: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces.]

When people are making a circle and they line themselves up according to their birthdays to create a total Zodiac, that brings about a great deal of harmony.

If the people in the Congress sat themselves around the Senate or House of Representatives according to their sun signs, instead of by party affiliations, the likelihood is that the Leos or the Aquarians would create a lot more harmony.  And if the American people could “seat themselves around the Constitution” in the same order in which their birth signs put them, the likelihood is we would achieve a great deal more harmony in our political system.

So it is critical that when we come to shul, we make sure that the people who are in the synagogue, (though they may be of different signs and modes of being), can look at each other and say, “We all belong.” 

In an organismic situation, every one of these twelve tribes contributes to the other.

And we are also saying the same thing as we extend this notion to include us and other religions.  There must be a recognition that among klal yisrael and beyond, we are all part of the organismic whole.   In relation to other religions, we see ourselves as a vital organ in the planetary life, along with the other vital organs.

If we are healthy in the interaction of our own tribal forms, we will be able to help bolster the health of other groups as well.

One Response to “Mah Tovu: An Organismic Whole”

  1. Tmimah Says:

    Seth, thank you for this post.
    רב ברכות

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