“Now come and put a curse on these people, because they are too powerful for me. Perhaps then I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed.” — Numbers 22:6
The Torah portion for this week is Balak, after the king of the Moabites, from Numbers 22:2–25:9, and the Haftorah is from Micah 5:6–6:8.
In an old “I Love Lucy” episode, there is a scene where Lucy participates in the ancient tradition of wine-making — by stomping the grapes with her bare feet. As she steps into a huge tub of grapes, she makes some very funny faces as she gingerly squashes the grapes allowing their juices to seep through the mesh, while the skin and seeds remain above. This is how wine used to be made. Crushing grapes with bare feet was the easiest and fastest way to release the juices.
Judaism traditionally begins every Sabbath and festival meal by making a blessing over a cup of wine. We hold the cup and raise it up while we recite the blessing. One of the meanings behind this symbolic act is that we are raising up that which has been pushed down. We elevate that which has been oppressed.
In life, there are two ways to get ahead — either by raising ourselves up, or by pushing others down. Unfortunately, more often than not, people choose the latter option. Be it a colleague in a large company trying to ascend the corporate ladder, or a cruel dictator wanting to enrich himself, many people choose to better their own conditions at the expense of others.
This was exactly the choice facing Balak, the king of the Moabites. Balak was afraid of the children of Israel, and so he employed Balaam, a sorcerer, to curse the Jewish people. However, the king could have just as easily hired Balaam to bless Balak’s own people. He could have asked for strength, but instead he asked Balaam to weaken the Israelites. Unfortunately for Balak, his plan did not succeed, and instead of being diminished by Balaam’s words, the Israelites were strengthened when Balaam’s curse came out as a blessing.
Thank God for that! Because, ultimately, if Balak had succeeded in tearing down the Israelites, he would have only been hurting himself and the whole world. In Genesis 12:3, God says, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Blessing the Israelites brings blessings to the world.
Friends, we all have the choice to cut others down, or instead, build ourselves and others up. While pushing others down through gossip or the like may be tempting, it’s only ourselves we are hurting. On the other hand, when we make ourselves better, everyone benefits. Similarly, when we bless others, we benefit from their blessings as well.
The world will not become brighter by diminishing someone else’s light. It’s only when we make our own flame brighter or add light to someone else that the world will become a brighter place for us all!
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President