In this week’s Torah portion, the Jewish nation is finally about to enter the land of Israel after wandering in the desert for 40 years.
Balak, the king of Moav, was frightened by the Jewish people and worried they would attack his country. He therefore hired the gentile prophet Bilam to curse the Jewish nation so that he might defeat it.
Bilam was renowned for his curses — which always came true — but when he tried to curse the Jewish people, the words simply wouldn’t come.
With the infinite love God has for the Jewish nation, God forced Bilam to bestow outstanding blessings upon it instead.
One of those blessings was, “For from their beginning, I see them as mountain peaks, and I behold them as hills.”
Our Rabbis find a deep meaning behind this blessing, interpreting the mountain peaks and hills as representing our patriarchs and matriarchs, thus underscoring our strong roots through our forebears.
This concept is connected to something Bilam’s ancestor, Lavan, said many years earlier. Lavan, who was also our forefather — Yaakov’s father-in-law — said to Yaakov: “The daughters are my daughters, and the sons are my sons, and the animals are my animals, and all that you see is mine.”
On a deeper level, Lavan was telling Yaakov that when you serve God while learning Torah and doing mitzvos, you are connected to God; however, when you engage in regular mundane things, you belong to me, and you have no connection to God.
In other words, Lavan was trying to split a Jew’s life into two: There is the spiritual part of a person that exists when they are in the synagogue and connected to God, but when they are involved in everyday life, they are just like anyone else.
Lavan’s descendant Bilam was forced to admit there is no dichotomy within a Jew. We are completely connected and rooted to God through our patriarchs and matriarchs, even while going about our everyday life. God entrusted us with the task of making this world a place fitting for God, and we are therefore connected to God in everything we do. PJC
Rabbi Shneur Horowitz is the director of Chabad Lubavitch of Altoona, Pennsylvania. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.