Friday, July 15, 2022 / 16 Tamuz 5782

Shalom Chaverim:

I am eager for the approach of sunset today and the start of our annual Shabbat-on-the-Beach services. What I most love about the Jewish experience of life I find to be present in abundance when folks gather together at a beach to greet Shabbat as a community:

The creating of a spirit of Jewish culture and innovation;

The celebration of beauty and life-in-general by experiencing life specifically as Jews-in-particular;

Being in-tune with “Jewish time” and the universe as we greet Shabbat to the waves’ rhythm;

Experiencing the moment with you all and being a part of this community…

What does true community feel like?

Moses Maimonides said that because God is so beyond what we mere humans are, we cannot fathom anything that truly describes what God IS. So, claims Maimonides, the best we can do is to say what God is NOT. I’m not sure I agree totally, but Maimonides’ point came to mind when I re-read the poem below, by the great Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. This poem is a fascinating reflection on this week’s Torah portion, Balak

The poem describes, through the negative, what being part of a Jewish community is all about. Amichai imagines the feelings of the prophet Bilaam who is on the ‘outside’ of the Israelite camp, being paid off by the King Balak to come and curse the Israelite camp. He can’t bring himself to curse us and instead ends up blessing us. Through the poet’s imagination of Bilaam’s longing and acute ‘outsider-ness’, we get a strong feeling about what it is like to be swept up in the belonging, in the liveliness, in the sense of mission, progress, and action, of belonging through community to a story that is bigger than ourselves:

An Empty Room and a Crumpled Love Letter…

Bilaam Bilaam, whose curse turned to blessing and his blessing to love,

Lay sleepless all night and at dawn he dashed off to the hills to survey the tribes of Israel and deliver his oracle.

But the children of Israel had departed in haste during the night, light on their feet, free of blessing and free of curse, and all Bilaam could see

Was an abandoned camp, tent pegs, bits of rope and campfire embers,

The smell of sheep, the memory of women’s perfume, veils left behind, a dress ripped by hard thistles, broken clay jars, a bright-colored ribbon and a jackal scrabbling in the garbage, howling.

And Bilaam went home, as a man returns to his lover’s room the day following, and the room is empty but for a crumpled love letter, a white sock, a comb with a hair, is how he longed for the Children of Israel.

Bilaam Bilaam, Bli-Am – without a People – whose curse turned to a blessing for him and the blessing to love and love to longing and longing to pain without end. And from his window he could see on the horizon the pillar of fire and the cloud of smoke that never meet.

חדר ריק, ומכתב אהבה מקומט…

בלעם בלעם, שהקללה הפכה לו לברכה והברכה לאהבה

כל הלילה לא ישן ובבקר השכם רץ אל הגבעות

שמהן השקיף על בני ישראל ומהן נשא את דבריו

אבל בני ישראל כבר עזבו בלילה בחפזון, קלי תנועה

משוחררים מקללה ומברכה ובלעם ראה רק את המחנה

הנטוש, שאריות חבלים ויתדות ורמצים במדורות

וריח עדרים וזכר בשם נשים וצעיפים שנשכחו,

שמלה שנקרעה בין קוצים קשים, כדים שבורים

וסרט צבעוני ותן מחטט באשפה ומילל.

ובלעם חזר אל ביתו, כמו אדם שחוזר לחדר אהבתו

למחרת, והחדר ריק ומוצא רק מכתב אהבה מקמט

גרב לבן, מסרק שבו שער, כך התגעגע

על בני ישראל. בלעם בלעם בלי עם,

שהקללה נהפכה לו לברכה והברכה לאהבה

והאהבה לגעגועים והגעגועים לכאב שאין לו קץ

ומחלונו באפק עוד ראה את עמוד

האש ועמוד העשן שלעולם לא יפגשו.

Please come join the Temple Sinai community and experience our greeting Shabbat and one another at the beach tonight…!


Rabbi Michael