Parshat Balak: Numbers 22:2-25:9; Micah 5:6-6:8.

Over the last few weeks, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, expanded gun rights and stripped the EPA of its ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. 

During that same time, Detroit set all-time heat records twice in the same week; Robb Elementary School in Uvalde was slated for demolition and parents continue to grieve in every corner of this country. 

Rabbi Nate Degroot
Rabbi Nate Degroot

The Abbot baby formula plant shut down again because of flooding and another infant died from consuming their product. We are living in a reality where people are being forced to give birth into a world without enough formula to keep their babies alive. And if their babies do survive infancy, they’ll be staring down flood, fire or the barrel of a gun.

It has been an especially difficult stretch for those of us on the side of love and justice and we have every reason to curse. But just because we have the right to curse, should we?

In this week’s Torah portion, Balak, the Moabite king, has just seen the Israelites slay two nations on the way to Moab and is understandably worried that he and his people are next. To stave off the charge, he hires a reluctant prophet, Balaam, to curse the Israelites. But standing on a mountain overlooking the Israelite camp, the only words Balaam can muster are words of blessing. “I can only repeat faithfully what YHVH puts in my mouth,” he says (Numbers 23:12), as he blesses the Israelites.

For real healing to take place in this country, never mind the world, at the scale and scope that the ills of this moment and the echoes of the past demand of us, I see no alternative but serious structural and systemic change to the deepest and most central system, the soul.

“A revolution in values,” as M.L. King said. But we can’t, I don’t believe, curse our way to that kind of collective soul healing. Rather, our collective liberation precariously depends on our radical ability to bless each other up and out of this horrific mess and onwards toward redemption. 

As we traverse the uncertain times ahead, may we remember our Divine calling, not just as humans, but as Jews. May we embrace our commandedness as a nation of priestesses, a tribe of holy imbuers, whose religious obligation is to sanctify even the most profane of circumstances. May we take up the daily mantle not only of social justice, but sacred justice; and may we rededicate our lives and ourselves to the incomparable pursuit of holy protest, showing up to help heal and transform this broken world into wholeness with our fiercest and most audacious Divinely inspired blessings in hand. 

Rabbi Nate DeGroot serves as national organizer for The Shalom Center, as part-time congregational rabbi for Temple Beth Israel in Jackson and as guest rabbi for Congregation Beth Israel in Flint.

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