I don't have much (if anything) to say expressly about Balak, this week's Torah portion. The only sort of thought-invoking bit of commentary in Etz Chayim is in regards to Balak's urging for the curse on the Israelites and Balaams persistent relaying of G-d's message that you cannot curse those who are blessed.
The text cites the Baal Shem Tov, who said "A Jew is never alone. G-d is always with every Jew." Then there is Abraham Joshua Heschel (not cited here, but all the same), who said "The Jew is never alone in the face of G-d; the Torah is always with him." Is G-d with us? Torah with us? Neither? Either? Both? Are they one in the same?
I was watching this episode of "Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?" on Style last night, and I was taken by one of the stories. It was a couple who had hastened their wedding vows after they'd started dating. Why? Well, she was diagnosed with an incredibly rare form of leukemia (.5-two people diagnosed each year worldwide) and given three-five years to live. She surpassed the time frame and six years after the diagnosis met the man. His story was that he'd been in a horrible car accident on an exit ramp on the freeway and had walked away. Less than a week later, because of a concussion and emotional trauma from the other accident, he rammed his car into the back of a city truck, completely decimating his vehicle and causing his near death. Then they met, realizing that they both were sort of knocking on heaven's door, fell in love, and got engaged. I don't consider it a miracle or necessarily a gift from G-d that either of them are bright, shining people who are giving back with a cancer scholarship and countless philanthropic activities -- they are the epitome of the perfect romance. However, I have to think that perhaps the everyday presence of G-d maintains some balance, some equilibrium. Then again, I don't even know if these two people were religious -- let alone Jewish (not that that matters).
If you Google "A Jew is never alone" ... you receive (at present) 76 entries (though only about 20 *really* show up). Many are variations on the Baal Shem Tov's famous words. Then there's random expressions of the Jew and his loneliness: "The Yarmulke is a constant reminder that a Jew is never alone. He walks with G-d. It is a feeling of assurance and comfort" (Jlaw.com).
It would seem that the Jew is never alone -- be it G-d or the yarmulke as a reminder of G-d or the mitzvot and laws of G-d in Torah. I imagine it is whether we accept or deny this as such. Does the denial of the constant presence make those moments in which we pray hard and fast for the protection of a sick relative or lover that much more effective and strong -- in OUR eyes? I often look at the religious Jew, he who is constantly swimming in Torah and wonder if -- when there are moments of desperation -- he feels as effective and firm and hopeful in his prayers as he who perhaps only calls on G-d in moments of crises. The constant presence may dull the effectiveness (in our minds, that is), nu? On the other hand, acknowledging the constant presence might allow us to take G-d for granted, to not appreciate the peace of mind.
Okay, so I lied. I had plenty to say about this tiny little quip of the Baal Shem Tov. I just didn't anticipate it.
I have quite a bit to say about the book I'm reading, Women and Jewish Law by Rachel Biale, but I'll save that for a little later this week or early next week. I have to say, though, that it's one of the most well-written Talmud-heavy texts I've read in a long time. Often I find such books hard to keep down, but Biale is BRILLIANT in her presentation of the texts. That is, she offers the Talmud text, then piece by piece explains in plain text (but not dumbing down) what exactly the sages were saying, then examines the evolution, importance, contradictions, and actual application of the laws. In the long run, I think this might help me if I decide to pursue/examine Rashi's daughters (or the women of Rashi's time/area in general) and the extent of his sentiments/interpretations of certain laws, including womens' study of the major texts.
Until then, shalom my friends. Stay cool in summer's heated breeze!