by Shaun Z. (Class of 2001)

Shaun Z. (Class of 2001) came back with his wife Michelle and two kids for a summer Shabbos at Shabbos House. Back in the day, Shaun was always up for a Dvar Torah, sharing relevant inspiration with fellow students at Shabbos Lunch in the old Shabbos House. In keeping with that tradition, Shaun shared the following at Shabbat lunch during his visit this summer:

Balak was a Midianite king. He felt threatened by the Jews after the Exodus but was scared to wage war against them. So he hired Bilaam, a respected gentile prophet to come and curse the Jewish people. See more of the story in this Parsha summary on Bilaam tries to curse the Jews, but his curses turn into blessings.

Take a closer look at Bilamm’s curses/blessings. He addresses the totality of the Jewish people. He could have maybe needled those Jews who stuck with Korach, or the ones who complained about the Manna. Maybe some comments could have been directed to Moses or maybe Joshua or the tribal leaders. But no, Bilaam standing atop the mountain with King Balak, looking down at the Jews in the valley didn’t see all the divisions and brands and sects and types of the Jewish people. All he saw were Jewish people. And he cursed (and blessed!) them equally.

Unfortunately, our enemies throughout the ages are often the same. Hitler hated secular Jews as much he hated religious Jews. Terrorists target Jews in Tel-Aviv or the Negev as much as they do Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

Bilaam’s curses turned into blessings. And this perspective of Bilaam is also a great blessing. May we be able to see all fellow Jews as one family, irrespective of whatever differences and arguments we may have. Our enemies don’t discriminate between us, so we should do the same – in a postive way, of course.


One of Bilaam’s most beloved lines is “Mah Tovu” which we say at the start of our daily prayers. It means “How goodly are thy tents O’ Jacob”. Many commentaries explain this to be about dignity and privacy, how the doors to Jewish tents did not face one another, so each family had their own private space and modesty. Juxtapose this with the end of the Torah portion, where Zimri displayed Kuzby, the Midianite woman with whom he was consorting, outside his tent. The beauty of Judaism is inside the tent.

Some Jews open the doors of their tent, not to be immodest but on the contrary, to allow others to see and appreciate the beauty that is within. Mendel and Raizy opened the doors of their tent, which allowed so many of us to be inspired by what we saw and experienced to want that same beauty for our own homes and families.