As July 4th weekend approaches and many (but not all) of our pandemic restrictions are being lifted, many of us may feel an overwhelming need to flee our homes and enjoy the outdoors. Even though we enjoyed more time with family and finding rest and relaxation in new pursuits, such as cooking and on-line learning, our self-enforced isolation has left us weary of our homes. Yet, a very familiar verse from Numbers (Num. 24:5) in this week’s double Torah portion Chukat-Balak reminds us “How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwelling places, O Israel!” In this portion the Moabite King Balak hires a non-Jewish prophet named Balam to curse the Jewish nation. Each time Balam attempts to do so, God causes him to utter words of blessing. Thousands of years later Balam’s words are one of the first blessings offered during our morning worship; Mah Tovu ohalecha Yaakov, mishk’notecha Yisrael!”
It is a blessing to have a home in which we can feel safe, in which we can take refuge. There are too many in our society who are not so blessed. Either they have no home, or the home they have is one in which rage and violence cause both emotional and physical abuse. As we celebrate the blessings of home and freedom this coming July 4th Shabbat, perhaps we can remember those who are not as fortunate as ourselves. Giving tzedakah as part of preparing for Shabbat is very important in our Jewish tradition. Perhaps this week, in recognition and gratitude of our own blessings of home and safety, we might choose to make a contribution to those who help the homeless, feed the hungry or work to eliminate the plague of domestic violence. In so doing, we too, like Balam, can turn curse into blessing.