In this week’s parsha, we read the story of Balaam, who is asked by Balak to curse the Israelis. Despite his intentions to vilify them, Balaam’s words become blessings. Balaam’s story makes clear that God gave us free will and we have the choice to give blessings or curses in the world.
Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, in his book, The Everyday Torah, summarizes God speaking with Balaam as “’The choice is yours, human. You are free to decide for yourself. ‘ In the words of the Talmud, ‘A person is led the way s/he wishes to go.’” (p. 263).
Balaam’s choice to bless or curse is also symbolic of each of our internal challenges and how we respond to what we see in the world. “This war goes on every day. It also takes place within the individual Jew, and we have to arouse the quality of grace every day” The Language of Truth: The Torah Commentary of the Sefat Emet , translated and interpreted by Art Green, p 258). Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, taught, “the balance between good and evil is maintained at all levels, in order to ensure free choice at every stage along the way” (Anatomy of the Soul, by Chaim Kramer with Avraham Sutton, p. 165).
Rabbi Art Green notes, “We in our very imperfection, amid our own messy and imperfect lives, are images of God. Only a God who knows an inner wrath with which He is not content can be with us as we struggle each day for the little victories above grace and over impatience and anger” (p. 259). Living with these options, we can transform wrath and jealousy to compassion and love.
Moreover, this week’s parsha emphasizes how we respond to what we see in the world. Again, we have the option to choose good or evil. “Balaam brought the blindness of his eye upon himself. He was struck sightless because he tried to cast an evil eye on Israel” (In My Flesh I See God, p. 114).
The recipe that I created plays off the themes of blessings versus curses and how one sees in the world. The primary ingredient is Swiss chard. It’s sprinkled with chili flakes, representing curses. This flavor is overwhelmed, though, by the sweetness of date syrup and tahini, symbolic of blessings. The slivered almonds and raisins in the dish look like eyes, representative of how we act upon what we see in the world.