In thinking about parshat Chukat and parshat Balak, there are some highly unusual events that take place in these stories, three in particular stand out to me...three different events, that are widely separated chronologically.   They really have nothing to do with each other, or so it seems at first glance.  I'm not sure why I even think of them together, but somehow I do...these events are what I would call (1) water that disappears, (2) a donkey that speaks, (3) a non-Jew who blesses the Jews.  How do these events connect?  In what way do they touch each other?

     In parshat Chukat, Miriam dies and the community is suddenly without water.  Rashi comments that in the almost forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites had a constant well of water because of the merit of Miriam.  Miriam's prophecy is one of action.  She teaches her people to sing - we remember her powerful song at the shores of the Red Sea - but even more than that, she sustains and supports her people during times of fragility and sadness.  She loves.  She cares.  Using her hands and heart, she is there for people.  To me, she's the behind-the-scenes person, doing the essential but not-so-glamourous work, you could even say, helping people get to a place where they can hear Moses.  When she dies, the life-sustaining well that has miraculously followed the Jews in their travels through the wilderness also dies.  A question for me is; in what way do each of us carry a well that has the capacity to nourish, hold, and sustain those we meet along our paths?  How do we create such a well?

     Further along, in parshat Balak, our relationship with animals is challenged.  This is a good thing, to me, for there are so many other places in the Torah where I find myself wrestling with the Israelites' treatment of animals.  But in this parsha, we are brought to another level.  Balaam, who is summoned by the king of Moab, Balak, to curse the Israelites, saddles up his donkey and proceeds on that journey, while stating that he will listen to what G-d tells him to do.  G-d sends an angel with a drawn sword as warning.  The donkey swerves away from the path.  Balaam is furious and strikes the donkey several times.  Finally the donkey turns to him and speaks calmly, essentially telling Balaam to open his eyes and pay attention to what is going on.  There is a midrash - Midrash Ba-Midbar Rabba - in which the rabbis ask why it is that animals don't use speech.  The rabbis ultimately conclude that there is much animals could say that would embarrass human beings, and G-d, knowing this, made it that they would not speak.  My questions here are;  Is one of our tasks in life to develop our capacity for hearing, the ability to hear, without fear, from that which is different from ourselves?   Would this increased capacity to hear other human beings eventually transfer to hearing all living beings?  Is that also why animals don't speak, so that we may begin to hear in ways that don't necessarily involve ears?

     Balaam blesses the Jewish people three times in this parsha, despite being sent to curse them.  While we are told we are blessed here, there appears to be another meaning as well, that we are a "source" of blessing. Rather than just living a life of being blessed, we have the capacity to offer blessings in how we live.  This brings me back to thinking about Miriam's well.  Her actions were a source of blessings to others.  That incredible well that followed Miriam's life seems to have been created from those actions.  No doubt Miriam listened with her heart not just her ears. She was able to hear from those who had no voice, those who had lost their voices in all kinds of tragedies and life circumstances.  Miriam could hear what the need was and she was able to act upon this kind of hearing.  What might we hear if we listened with our hearts?

     Water, animals, blessings....some ideas about giving, hearing and being.  Some thoughts about what is life-sustaining.  What we do that is life sustaining for others, paradoxically but not surprisingly, becomes life-sustaining for ourselves.





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