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  • Yehuda Pevzner

A Blessing & A Curse

A Russian Jew was granted permission to leave Soviet Russia. At the airport, he was stopped by a Soviet customs official who rummaged through his briefcase and found a gold figurine in the image of Stalin.


He was asked what it was and the Jew replied: "The sun of the people, the man by whom we had a life of health, livelihood and happiness." The policeman was moved by his patriotism and released him with satisfaction.


Arriving at the gates of the Promised Land, the Israeli customs official stopped him, checked his briefcase and found the figurine. "What is this?" "Do not ask! Because of this man, we had no life, no livelihood, no health and no happiness." The policeman was moved by his pain and suffering and released him.

When the immigrant met with his family in Israel, they found the figurine and asked what it was. "It's 5 kilos of gold with which we can start life in this new country."


In this week's Torah reading, Balak, the king of Moab, summons the prophet Balaam to curse the people of Israel. On the way, Balaam is berated by his donkey, who sees, before Balaam does, the angel that G‑d sends to block their way. Three times, from three different vantage points, Balaam attempts to pronounce his curses; each time, blessings issue forth instead. Balaam also prophesies on the end of the days and the coming of Moshiach.


King Balak was such an evil person and yet, the entire Torah portion is named after him! The message of this story, then, is to change our perspective. Balak may be the name of a tyrant, but he was also G-d’s ambassador to bring to the world the prophet of the future redemption.

Like the Jew leaving Soviet Russia, it takes a mindset change for something to be the bane of our existence to be a source of blessing.


Candle lighting time in NYC is before 8:08 PM.

Shabbat Shalom!