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Rabbi Leonard S. Berkowitz
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June 21, 2013

Parshat Balak

Micah 5:6 - 6:8

While the Torah portion tells the story of Bil'am and Balak at length, the Haftarah highlights the moral of the story in brief. The Torah narrative describes in detail Balak's intention to curse the people Israel and how his intentions were thwarted. The prophet Micah (6:5), however, is content to hint at how the proposed curse was turned into a blessing. But rather than just thinking of how God protects the collective people of Israel from supernatural curses, readers today may also want to think of how individuals can turn their own personal "curses" into blessings.

A few weeks ago several U.S. broadcasters aired stories on how high tech firms from Germany (SAP) and Plano, Texas (nonPareil Institute) have launched a plan to actively recruit thousands of autistic workers to write computer code and create new smart-phone applications. This kind of work is often tedious, and solitary and demands intense concentration: attributes ideally suited to the autistic. So as it happens, the same condition that would otherwise be considered a "curse" now ends up becoming a competitive advantage.

This is a recent manifestation of the theme of turning curses into blessings. Think of Ludwig von Beethoven about whom it has been said wrote his most magnificent music after he had gone deaf and used his vivid aural imagination instead of his ears. Or think of Basketball Hall-of-Famer Wes Unseld who was considered one of the best defensive players and rebounders of all time even though he measured a mere six-foot seven (short for the center position he played). Rather than trying to out-leap taller opposing players, Unseld use his greater bulk and clever positioning to his advantage. And Helen Keller, despite her considerable disabilities - or, perhaps, because of them - became a principle proponent of humanitarianism as well as an inspiration to all.

As Jews we hope that just as God protected our ancestors from the curses of our enemies, He will continue to protect us today. At the same time, Micah tells us that curses can be turned into blessings and there are ample examples to show this is true.

This week's Haftarah commentary was written by
Rabbi Wayne Allen, Ph.D. Rabbi Allen has served as a congregational rabbi for 35 years, taking on postings in New York City, Los Angeles, and Toronto. He is currently serving as the Provost of the Canadian Yeshiva and Rabbinical School, and Lecturer at the University of Waterloo. He is the author of Perspectives on Jewish Law and Contemporary Issues, Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, Israel, e-mail: Books@schechter.ac.il. Visit Rabbi Allen's website for more commentaries and information: rabbiwayneallen.ca
Rabbi Allen is an editorial board member, The Unraveller.

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