Shabbat Balak

Begins Friday July 6th at 8.10 pm
Ends July 7th at 9.10 pm
Fast of Tamuz begins Sunday morning at 4.05am, ends at 8.45pm

The story of Bilaam the sorcerer is the central theme of this week’s reading. The ancient world, indeed our world today, believed in magic, in curses in evil eyes. And Bilaam was the best of the magicians and was paid a lot of money to come and curse the Children of Israel, to stop them dead in their tracks and make them disappear. But he failed because God had other plans.

The message of Bilaam’s poetry is that the Jewish people is capable of withstanding whatever is thrown at them provided of course that it is united, morally upright and honest. And that remains true today. No one will harm us unless we fail ourselves. Every one of us has a direct line to God, regardless of how humble. If we are afraid, it is to God we must turn, not to magicians, peddlers of hocus pocus or instant solutions. We and God share control over our destinies. We must do our part if we ask of God to do what we want. Times have not changed in three thousand years. We still long for someone else to solve our problems for us.

The Fast we have on Sunday is not a long fast. It begins early on Sunday morning so if you get back from clubbing early on Sunday you can still have an early breakfast! And then we start a three week period of mourning for the terrible destruction that we as a people suffered first at the hands of the Babylonians and then the Romans which ends on Tisha B’Av on the 28th/29th of July. No amount of prayer or magic for that matter could help us any more than it could help Egypt or even Persia.

This period of mourning is to remind us that we are our own worst enemies. Either because we think our religion doesn’t matter, or because so many are incapable of behaving correctly towards each other or because we allow corruption to infect our system and our people. If we cannot correct others we can at least get our own acts together.