Parashah of the week: Balak

“The Ultimate came to Bala’am and asked, ‘Who are these people with you?’” Numbers 22:9


The prophet Bala’am misunderstands the question, proudly answering: “Balak, the son of Tsipor, the King of Midian, has sent [a message] to me.”

He misunderstands the question in a way that we too often misunderstand questions. He answers it too quickly. God does not need a quick factual response.

Why does the Ultimate ask such a question? Rashi, the 11th-century commentator, asks this, back in chapter three of Bereshit, when God asks the first Divine question — and what a question that is. Humanity has made a mistake and consequently hides, as we sometimes do. The Divine asks “Ayecha?”, “Where are you?”.

Rashi explains” “God knows where the human is, it is only to enter into him with words, to start a conversation that He asks. So too when the Divine asks Cain, “Where is your brother?” Or Bala’am, “Who are these people with you?”.

Learning from Rashi, let us each understand the questions in our lives correctly, by not offering technically correct serviceable answers, but by embracing the questions, teasing out their possibilities in our minds and hearts.

We might listen carefully for the big questions — how can I live better, for example — and hold on to them, mulling them over and living possible answers to this perennial question.

The poet and writer Rilke wrote in his Letters to a Young Poet: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue.

“Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.”

Our Judaism does not offer easy answers. We learn to love the questions, and to pose them of ourselves; we resist an age of impatient acquisitiveness, in which one just forges on.

We support each other in exploring uncertainty, so that we can change, live in the present and become.

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