This week’s Torah portion features a king’s attempt to curse the people of Israel.
A few months before the pandemic, which now feels like another lifetime, I flew home for a visit with my parents and sisters, one of whom is pregnant with her first child. Unlike so many members of our community, I didn’t grow up in Michigan — although I got here as fast as I could — and so these cross-country trips have become an essential part of our routine.
During these visits, there is always great food and reminiscing, board games and shopping; but in my family, the best conversations happen at night after half the house is sleeping. In the calm and the dark and the quiet, we talk about the things that really matter, and the things that are harder to say when we are running around or chasing kids or sitting down to eat. And given the circumstances, during this visit, we found ourselves ruminating on what it means to raise a family, to share your life so fully and unconditionally with someone else.
We talked about moments of strength and weakness, about how challenging it is to live with intention, to raise children with a strong sense of right and wrong, negotiating the time and energy and input of families on both sides. We talked about change, and how children morph into completely different humans 5, 10, 20, 50 years down the road. And, of course, we joked about the wonderful world of sleep deprivation.
But as the words flowed, as we shared stories and compared experiences, it became clear that all the stories and all the advice came from a place of love.
This week’s Torah portion features a king’s attempt to curse the people of Israel. He sends Balaam, a prophet, to the Israelite camp; and instead of cursing them, out of his mouth comes a beautiful blessing: Ma Tovu O’halecha Ya’akov, mishkanotecha Yisrael. How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel.
Our tradition teaches that Balaam uttered these words of blessing after seeing that the Israelites arranged their homes in such a way that their doors and windows faced away from each other. They were private, a people that valued their family units — their chosen people — and they made the choice to share more deeply and trust harder and love deeper with the people with whom they shared their homes.
There are things that we share with our partners and our children that we would never share with another soul. There are things we share with our families that leave us vulnerable and open, as we are lifted or shattered by those closest to us.
This vulnerability is a blessing. And as we prepare to welcome a new soul into our own family, I can’t help but dream of her, sitting in the dark with us, legs crossed on the couch, laughing and crying, open and true.
How lovely are our tents … how lovely, how sacred, to share ourselves fully with those we love.
Rabbi Jennifer Lader is a rabbi at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield.