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Crouched in wait for destiny

  • ParshaRabbiWidmonte
The Talmud (B’rachot 12b) records that certain sages raised the idea of including an extra section in the Sh’ma, above and beyond the three we read already. This, they suggested, should be taken from this week’s sidrah (portion) Balak. The only reason they refrained from doing so is that it would make the Sh’ma too long for the community.
by RABBI RAMON WIDMONTE | Jul 18, 2019

Such a statement startled the sages as much as it startles us. What on earth could the prophecies of a confirmed anti-Semite (the prophet Bilam) have to offer above and beyond the profundity encapsulated in the Sh’ma?

Our sages reply that it is due to one line in Bilam’s prophecy, “He couched, he lay down like a lion, like an awesome lion; who shall rouse Him? Those who bless You are blessed, and those who curse You are cursed.” (Numbers 24:9).

Rav Kook (in Ein Ayah) explains that the reason our sages sought to add the whole section just for this verse is related to the idea of Jewish peoplehood, purpose, and obligations.

There are so many grand visions and “isms” in the world. Some of them appeal to us deeply because of the G-dliness of our souls. Socialism is one of these. Who wouldn’t prefer a world where no child went hungry, where everything was shared? Yet the gap between grand vision and actual implementation is vast, so vast that often in the rush to build utopian heavens on earth, humans all too often wind up making a hell. The histories of China, Soviet Russia, and North Korea, are just some of the examples of how wide the gap is.

So is it with Jewish ideals. How we achieve these ideals in a manner which will uplift the world?

The answer is the Jewish people. Jews have lived for thousands of years with the obstinate insistence that they have a mission, a responsibility. They have crouched like that lion, waiting patiently for its moment, convinced (many have thought ludicrously so) that the world would one day be ripe for our ideals, and for our refounded nation and state. Even in the darkest days of slumbering nationhood, we remained committed and poised.

This commitment, this truly selfless sense of devotion to a mission and obligation bigger than the self (an idea which is rapidly untranslatable to a society increasingly ensnared by the idolatry of self, me, I, and “my rights”) is what has enabled our ideals to permeate the world so profoundly. How else did a bunch of nomads in the Sinai Peninsula manage to put its ideals onto the walls of the United Nations, “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares ...” in the face of all the outnumbering competition?

Those of us who can tap into this, who “bless this”, are surely blessed with a sense of community and mission stretching back three thousand years and forward, across space, joining us to Hashem.

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