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President's message 7.15.22

Dear friends,

Parshat Balak recounts the story of Bilaam, the greatest gentile prophet, and the plot of Balak, the king of Moab, to use Bilaam to curse the Jewish People. We learn that Bilaam is reluctant to go, saying that even if given storehouses of gold and silver, he couldn't go without Hashem's permission. Eventually, Hashem reluctantly allows Bilaam to go, and he quickly saddles his ass and embarks to Moab. 

On the way an angel blocks his path, seen initially by the ass only, and causes Bilaam to repeatedly beat the ass until his eyes are opened to reveal the angel before him. The angel instructs him to go, but to only say the word of Hashem. In this way, all of the curses that Balak had wished to be brought on the Jewish People become blessings. The plan is thwarted. 

There are two facets of the story that immediately jump out. The first involves Hashem's anger at Bilaam and the second involves the angel. Bilaam initially refused to go to Moab, and only agreed when Hashem gave him permission. Then, several verses later, we read that Hashem was incensed that Bilaam was going. But why, when he had just given permission? 

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky writes that Hashem was upset not by Bilaam’s actions but by his attitude. He doesn't reluctantly go to Moab, but rather wakes early, saddles his own ass and sets out as soon as possible. Now that he has permission, the storehouses of gold and silver are as good as his. Rabbi Kamenetzky teaches that just having permission, or even tacit approval to do something, does not mean that it’s right. We have to use our moral compass to decide what should be done and not simply allow the opportunities that are presented to us to dictate our actions.  

Thn there's the appearance of the angel. Our sages tell us that Bilaam was a great prophet, rivalling Moshe. How is it that he did not see the angel when his ass did, and that he didn't even consider why his ass was behaving unusually… even when the ass starts speaking to him? How was he so blind? 

Rabbi Kamenetzky learns from this interaction that, while miracles happen all around us, we have to be open to seeing them. When we are focused on our own goals and opportunities, we don't appreciate what is happening around us. When a great visionary like Bilaam can be caught up in mundane pursuits and not appreciate the miracles around him, how much more are we at risk of focusing on the trees and missing the forest?

Rabbi Kamenetzky writes that Bilaam was only interested in his honor and would have slaughtered his donkey on the spot. We need to open our eyes to what is around us, and use our moral compass to decide the right path forward. (For the full dvar Torah, click here ​​​.​​​)

• • • 

Back home now, planning for the summer and the High Holidays continues. We are still collecting money pledged for the annual fundraiser but I can tell you that, to date, we have raised over $175,000 after expenses. We have already given over $40,000 to Chabad of Brooklyn Heights, and there will be additional payments as more pledges come in and the expenses are finalized. This is a great achievement and a credit to our community and the love that we all have for our Shul. I deeply thank all who contributed, especially the matchers and the fundraising committee.

The next Board meeting is scheduled for July 25th. In addition to the standard topics, we will be finalizing job descriptions, and hopefully identifying additional individuals to help run the Shul. We will also be finalizing a code of conduct and discussing security measures that can be implemented to improve our safety. I will be sending out the agenda next week, in advance of the meeting, so members can comment and request additional topics to be discussed at the meeting.

The Siyyum BBQ sponsored by the Daf Yomi group is scheduled for Sunday afternoon, July 31 (an opportunity to eat meat during the Nine Days). It is free and open to all. Details to follow.

Wishing you all a peaceful and meaningful Shabbat Shalom,
Steven Inker

Fri, August 12 2022 15 Av 5782