Torah Portion: Attaining Healing Through Blessing

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Parashat Balak: Numbers 22:2-25:9; Micah 5:6-6:8.

Over the past few weeks, the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, expanded gun rights and stripped the EPA of its ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

During the same period, Detroit set all-time heat records twice in the same week; Robb Primary School in Uvalde was due to be demolished and parents continue to mourn in all corners of the country.

Rabbi Nate Degroot
Rabbi Nate Degroot

The Abbot infant formula factory closed again due to flooding and another infant died after consuming their product. We live in a reality where people are forced to give birth in a world without enough formula to keep their babies alive. And if their babies survive infancy, they will see floods, fire, or the barrel of a gun.

It has been a particularly difficult time for those of us on the side of love and justice and we have every reason to curse. But just because we have the right to curse, should we?

In this week’s Torah portion, Balak, the Moabite king, has just seen the Israelites kill two nations on their way to Moab and is understandably worried that he and his people will be next. To avoid accusation, he hires a reluctant prophet, Balaam, to curse the Israelites. But standing on a mountain overlooking the Israelite camp, the only words Balaam can speak are words of blessing. “I can only faithfully repeat what YHVH puts in my mouth,” he said (Numbers 23:12), as he blesses the Israelites.

For true healing to take place in this country, no matter the world, on the scale and magnitude that the ills of this moment and the echoes of the past demand of us, I see no alternative but serious structural and systemic changes to the deepest and most central system, the soul.

“A revolution of values”, as ML King said. But we can’t, I don’t think, curse our way to that kind of collective soul healing. Rather, our collective liberation precariously depends on our radical ability to bless each other out of this horrible mess and onward toward redemption.

As we navigate through the uncertain times ahead, may we remember our divine calling, not just as humans, but as Jews. May we embrace our command as a nation of priestesses, a tribe of holy imbibers, whose religious obligation is to sanctify even the most profane circumstances. May we put on the daily mantle not only of social justice, but of sacred justice; and may we rededicate our lives and ourselves to the matchless pursuit of holy protest, showing ourselves to help heal and transform this shattered world into wholeness with our fiercest and boldest divinely inspired blessings in hand.

Rabbi Nate DeGroot is national organizer of the Shalom Center, part-time congregational rabbi for Temple Beth Israel in Jackson and guest rabbi for Congregation Beth Israel in Flint.

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