Rabbi Robinson Sermon for June 25, 2021

Rabbi Yair D. Robinson

Parashat Balak 2021



Numbers 24:1-5

(1) Now Balaam, seeing that it pleased the Eternal to bless Israel, did not, as on previous occasions, go in search of omens, but turned his face toward the wilderness. (2) As Balaam looked up and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the spirit of God came upon him. (3) Taking up his theme, he said: Word of Balaam son of Beor, Word of the man whose eye is true, (4) Word of him who hears God’s speech, Who beholds visions from the Almighty, Prostrate, but with eyes unveiled: (5) How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel!


במדבר כ״ד:א׳-ה׳

(א) וַיַּ֣רְא בִּלְעָ֗ם כִּ֣י ט֞וֹב בְּעֵינֵ֤י יְהֹוָה֙ לְבָרֵ֣ךְ אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְלֹא־הָלַ֥ךְ כְּפַֽעַם־בְּפַ֖עַם לִקְרַ֣את נְחָשִׁ֑ים וַיָּ֥שֶׁת אֶל־הַמִּדְבָּ֖ר פָּנָֽיו׃ (ב) וַיִּשָּׂ֨א בִלְעָ֜ם אֶת־עֵינָ֗יו וַיַּרְא֙ אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל שֹׁכֵ֖ן לִשְׁבָטָ֑יו וַתְּהִ֥י עָלָ֖יו ר֥וּחַ אֱלֹהִֽים׃ (ג) וַיִּשָּׂ֥א מְשָׁל֖וֹ וַיֹּאמַ֑ר נְאֻ֤ם בִּלְעָם֙ בְּנ֣וֹ בְעֹ֔ר וּנְאֻ֥ם הַגֶּ֖בֶר שְׁתֻ֥ם הָעָֽיִן׃ (ד) נְאֻ֕ם שֹׁמֵ֖עַ אִמְרֵי־אֵ֑ל אֲשֶׁ֨ר מַחֲזֵ֤ה שַׁדַּי֙ יֶֽחֱזֶ֔ה נֹפֵ֖ל וּגְל֥וּי עֵינָֽיִם׃ (ה) מַה־טֹּ֥בוּ אֹהָלֶ֖יךָ יַעֲקֹ֑ב מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶ֖יךָ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃



Shenei Luchot HaBerit, Torah Shebikhtav, Balak, Ner Mitzvah 2

Although there is not a single one of the 613 commandments listed in this פרשה, the famous blessing of מה טובו אהליך יעקב משכנותיך ישראל “How goodly are your tents O Jacob, your dwellings O Israel,” is contained in our portion. Our sages have said that the expression “your tents,” refers to periods when Israel is at peace in its homeland, whereas the word “your dwellings,” refers even to periods when the Land and Temple of Israel is in ruins (24,5). Rashi explains that משכון is also “pledge”, that even when there is no “temple,” its very ruins are the guarantee that Israel will try to qualify for atonement. He quotes Eychah Rabbah on Lamentations 4,11 as his support.


שני לוחות הברית, תורה שבכתב, בלק, נר מצוה ב׳

אין בפרשה זו מצוה ממצות תרי”ג, מכל מקום כתיב בה (במדבר כד, ה) מה טובו אהליך יעקב משכנותיך ישראל, ואמרו רז”ל (הובא ברש”י במדבר כד, ה) מה טובו אהליך בישובן, משכנותיך ישראל אפילו בחורבנן. ותנן במסכת מגילה פרק בני העיר (כח, א) שנוהגין בהן כבוד בחורבנן כמו בישובן. והאריכו שם בגמרא:



I have a favorite poem by William Blake because of course I do. It’s from The Songs of Experience, and it begins:

t is an easy thing to triumph in the summer’s sun

And in the vintage and to sing on the waggon loaded with corn

It is an easy thing to talk of patience to the afflicted

To speak the laws of prudence to the homeless wanderer

To listen to the hungry raven’s cry in wintry season…”


Yes, it is easy to rejoice in the tents of prosperity, to offer gratitude and assure ourselves that we will do the right thing in the moment when everything is fine. It is one thing to pledge and offer our care and patience when everything is going well. When your life is running speedily off the rails, however: that is where our convictions, our ability to be kind and gentle with one another, to be loving, is truly tested. But this text, and it’s interpretation suggests that, even if we fall short–for we will, at some point–even if our actions are like the Temple in ruins, even those ruins, and the intentions behind them, matter and make a difference. Our actions matter, not just when everything goes to plan and we are correct, but when everything runs afoul as well. May we be reminded of this, not to let ourselves off the hook, but to forgive ourselves when our best intentions are not realized by our actions. For even then, how beautiful are our tents, our dwelling places.