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3/4 July: Parsha Balak

Shabbat comes in at 9.06 pm and goes out at 10.24pm
Balak, the leader of the Ammonites wants to curse the Israelites, so he offers the sorcerer Bilam boundless treasure to get the job done.  The only trouble is, Bilam cannot just do whatever he pleases, he is bound by his relationship to God, and he is bound to the instructions he receives from God.  Three times, to Balak’s chagrin, all Bilam can do is bless God’s people.
Bilam utters an interesting line which has taken on such importance that it is one of the first things we traditionally say upon entering a synagogue. “Ma Tovu Ohalecha Ya’akov,” “How fair are your tents, Ya’akov.”   Rashi (11th century, Troyes) comments that Bilam found the tents noteworthy because “he saw their entrances not turned toward one another.” In that final blessing, Bilam recognized what is not so hard to understand. We all know how important having personal space can be. We all know that taking space for ourselves is critical for maintaining our psycho-spiritual health.
We don’t want our neighbours looking in on our private lives, so we grow our hedges high and we build our fences up, and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, there is something profound about setting our neighbours up for success and not putting a stumbling block before the blind. By building our fences up, by turning our tent opening away from our neighbor’s opening, we help maintain healthy social boundaries.
It is not only important to know how to maintain our own boundaries, it is important not to pry into one another’s lives. Beside literally looking into one another’s homes, there are many ways in which we can invade each other’s privacy.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Paul Arberman
June 28, 2015