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Mah tovu and the collective transition

07/17/2019 11:03:20 AM


Kim Bodemer

In this week’s Torah portion, Balak, we read of the prophet Bilaam, who is hired by the king of Moab, Balak, to curse the Israelites. Bilaam stands on the mountain overlooking the Israelite camp, ready to issue a curse, but the words change in his mouth, offering a blessing instead. The words he spoke are the same words we sing each Shabbat morning as we begin our service – Mah Tovu Ohalecha Ya’akov, Mishkenotecha Yisrael (How lovely are your tents O Jacob, your dwelling places O Israel).
Traditionally, the words of Mah Tovu were recited privately as a person walked into the sanctuary in the morning. It was meant as an opportunity for transition – a time to let go of the worries from our daily lives and be part of a sacred community. Transitioning from our hectic lives, giving ourselves permission to “unplug” from the noise and distractions we regularly face is not always easy to do. Today, Mah Tovu is sung as the opening prayer of the Shabbat morning service. It’s a chance for a collective transition and transformation. The power of community can be felt when we are present in body and spirit, raising our voices and opening our hearts. Perhaps this is the kind of community that Bilaam saw as he gazed down at the Israelite encampment – a community together physically and spiritually – a community worthy of blessing! May we, like our biblical ancestors join together and be blessed.

Wed, November 13 2019 15 Cheshvan 5780