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Our Goodly Tents

Our Goodly Tents

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The Talmud asks the darnest questions. I mean, we all heard the story of how King Balak summons Balaam to curse the Children of Israel and how G‑d transforms the curses in the wicked prophet's mouth into blessings. We read the verses flowing from Balaam's lips, which include some of the most exquisite things ever said about the Jewish people. Beautiful story. But only the Talmud asks: What did Balaam want to say? What were those curses of his that were transformed into blessings?

Well, follows the Talmudic logic, if the curses were transformed into blessings, then the curses would be the diametric opposite of the blessings. If we wish to know what Balaam wanted to say, we should take a closer look at the words he actually mouthed.

What did Balaam bless? That great kings shall arise in Israel, establishing a dynasty that will span generations and never be disrupted; that Israel shall be sovereign in her land forever, the greatest and most powerful in the family of nations, the Divine Presence dwelling in her midst, leading mankind in their quest to know and serve their Maker. So what did Balaam want to say? The exact opposite, of course: that Israel's kings shall fall, her royal dynasty be cut off, her sovereignty cease, the Divine Presence in her Holy Temple depart, her power fail, her leadership fade.

But the Talmud doesn't leave it at that. Pressing its point, it insists: so what happened in the end? The days of David and Solomon saw the fulfillment of Balaam's blessings. But then everything began to fall apart. The people abandoned their G‑d, the nation was rent by strife; the Davidic dynasty was dethroned, the Holy Temple destroyed, the proud nation expelled from their land and subjugated and persecuted for centuries.

So in the end Balaam's curses prevailed! G‑d transformed them into blessings, but we transformed them back into Balaam's original format. The beautiful story came to a ruinous end.

But there is one blessing which we have retained. "How goodly are your tents, O Jacob," proclaimed Balaam from the Heights of Peor. These, says the Talmud, are the houses of prayer and the houses of learning planted in the heart of every Jewish community.

These tents and dwellings have never folded. After two dozen centuries as "children banished from their father's table," we still commune with G‑d three times a day in our houses of prayer. Thirty-three centuries after Sinai, the Torah is still studied, expounded and debated in our houses of learning.

To this blessing we have held fast. And this blessing shall restore all the others to us.

Yanki Tauber served as editor of Chabad.org
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Tova Saul Jerusalem July 3, 2015

What a wonderful davar Torah I am the most critical person I know when it comes to davar Torahs. If I say that this article presented a fascinating question and gave an answer that was both 100% plausible and inspiring is a great compliment. I will search weekly for other parsha davar Torahs from Rabbi Tauber. Reply

Shlomo Philipson monsey.ny June 21, 2013

To Ken Greenberg King Solomon had many wives from different countries through which he fostered a bond with the rulers of those countries as he married their daughters.However before he married them he converted them to Judaism and the same goes for The Queen of Sheba wherefore their son was Jewish but his wife (wives) again were probably not wherefore Hailie Selassie cannot be considered to be from the Davidic Dymasty. Reply

Yanki Tauber June 28, 2004

Reply to Ken The significance of the Davidic dynasty lies not in the fact that a physical descendent of David and Solomon is a king somewhere in the world, but in that "Israel is sovereign in her land... the Divine Presence dwelling in her midst, leading mankind in their quest to know and serve their Maker." So regardless of whether of not there is historical validity to the claimed lineage of Ethiopia's royal family, they would hardly constitute a fulfillment of Balaam's blessing. Reply

ken greenberg santa barbara, ca/usa June 28, 2004

our goodly tents by yanki tauber In reference to your interesting insight relating to the blessings/curses from the mouth of Baalam, you indicate that the Davidic dynasty was dethroned. It is my observation that Ethiopia's emperor Haile Selassie Ras Tafari was coronated as a direct descendant of Menelik, the son of Solomon and Makeda of Sheba.

I am aware that Jewish law dictates that a child born of a non Hebrew woman is not considered Jewish, even if that women had previously professed such faith. Is that why the Solomonic dynasty as is perpetuated from the days of Menelik the first is not considered by you to represent the dynasty of King David?

If you are so inclined, please respond to my inquiry. Reply