Thursday, July 2, 2009

G-dcast for Balak and Storahtelling Commentary

Below is a commentary tying in this week's portion with the sins of Madoff - by Amichai Lau Levi. To see the full commentary, click here.

Balaam’s sin is the hitting of the donkey. In Hebrew, the word for donkey, ‘Hamor,’ is derived from the same root for ‘matter’ or ‘substance’. The great prophet is frustrated by reality and actually hitting the physical dimension of his life. The donkey is an extension of his body – but it is also a symbol for an animated, animalistic being in the world that is connected to life in a profound, sometimes disturbing way. Balaam’s sin is not just the violence – he hurts his loyal, innocent animal– it is the very expression of human short-sightedness. His is the sin of limited, selective vision and misplaced rage – he simply doesn’t see the big picture.

It turns out OK. He opens his mouth, much like his donkey does, and blessings emerge, including ‘how fine are your tents O children of Jacob’ – the poetry of a pagan prophet that made it into scripture and Jewish liturgy. But even though he gets the credit for philo-semitic sentiments – his earlier sins are not forgotten and never quite forgiven. A few weeks from now, the Torah will describe the big battle between Israel and Midyan – Balaam, enemy of Israel, will be among the slain.

So who’s a sinner and what’s a sin? Perhaps limited perspective – the choice of purposefully and selfishly refusing to see the full picture of what one’s life is about and how the actions one chooses influence the lives of others – for better or for worse – perhaps that’s the defining mode of sin – and that’s what makes a sinner.

Bernie will have lots of time to think about this, and other questions of ethical essence. Back from Chicago, packing up the Storahtelling office (we gotta move, thanks Bernie) I am grateful for the opportunity to also consider the ethics of what to do with wrong behaviors and how to deal with or forgive the ones whose sins have hurt the lives of those I love. Hate the sin – not the sinner, I’ve been taught. Mr. Madoff – you’re truly an ass, and quite the sinner but I hope you find some way to do more than say ‘I’m sorry’ to fix what you’ve done. Balaam’s prophecy – ‘this people shall rise like a lion, overcoming woe’ resonates deeply today. We shall overcome.

G-dcast for Balak:

Parshat Balak from g-dcast on Vimeo.

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