Friday, 4 July 2014

Balak's Obstacles

Parashat Balak! Two years ago the girls learned the story well and acted it out (here). Last year (here), I shared Torah thoughts and the girls made a town of tiny tents. This year, as I read the story to myself and with the girls I was really struck by Bilam's ahtone [donkey] as she is being blocked by the angel. 

Obviously the miraculous parts of this encounter is the presence of the angel and the speaking donkey. One of my favorite mishnayot in Pirke Avot states, "Ten things were created on the eve of Shabbat, at twilight. They are: The mouth of the earth; the mouth of the well; the mouth of the donkey; the rainbow; the Manna; the staff; the Shamir; the alphabet; the inscription; and the Tablets." The talking donkey (not Shrek's) was created during the last moments of creation, waiting for this most important moment. But that still isn't what really struck me this year. 
  • How often am I 'riding a donkey' that won't go the way I want it to?
  • How often do I encounter obstacles which prevent me every step of the way?
    • It happens with some frequency. 
  • How often do I realize, without waiting for a talking animal, that the obstacle is being purposefully placed their by Hashem?
    • Not nearly enough!!!
There might not be a physical angel in front of us, but God's hand is there to guide, and if we push It away, and walk away from It, we are less intelligent than a donkey. 

The negative caused by ignoring obstacles versus the value in trying to overcome them (or the reversal) is a major theme in the Parasha. 
  1. Balak considers his first obstacle to be the Jewish people and tried to employ Bilam to overcome them.
  2. Hashem denies Bilam's request to curse, an answer Bilam considers merely an obstacle.
  3. Balak sends many messengers to overcome Bilam's refusal.
  4. The angel obstructs Bilam's journey.
  5. Balak tries various means to change Bilam's blessings into curses. 
It is interesting to note that in the Parasha the Jewish people are only observed and do not actively do anything. All of the obstacles here are relating to non-Jews. Sometimes you completely have to step outside of a situation to be able to learn from it. I believe that is one purpose of Parashat Balak.

"Do you know what an obstacle is?" I asked the girls.
"Something you have to get around," Gabi replied.
"I want a popsicle!" Ruti yelled.
"Like an obstacle course," Cohava added.
"Exactly. Should we always try to get around an obstacle?"
"I want a popsicle!" Ruti yelled again. 
"Ruti, popsicle sounds like obstacle, but they are not the same word! Now stop asking for one," Gabi explained sternly. I snickered.
"We should always try, like if it is an important obstacle to get around," Cohava explained.
"I want a popsicle!!!!" Ruti hollered. 

We discussed types of obstacles, things which may or may not be worth fighting for. We talked about asking someone for something as an obstacle, versus doing something on our own to overcome it. We talked about if it was always worth it when you finally got it. Comparing this to grit is interesting, when to keep trying and when to graciously accept that something is not meant to be.

And then we played games. First we made a version of 'Mother May I'. We called it "Bilam Will You", based on Balak's repeated efforts to enlist Bilam in the cursing job. I was Bilam. This was a fun game and would be good to play in "Shabbat Groups".

Then we had an obstacle course. I set up the original one. The girls took turns checking each other's accuracy and speed. 

Then Tova woke up and became a moving obstacle. 

 Being overly tired is another challenging obstacle for the course.
 Then the girls changed it up and made it trickier. 

I went upstairs and used their obstacle time to work on one of my own on-going challenges, trying to keep the house in order. 

May you be able to identify the obstacles that are angels in your way and overcome the others with ease. 
Shabbat Shalom!

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