Friday, July 3, 2015

Our Houses, Our Tents

One of my favorite aspects to the morning liturgy is how it begins.

We are supposed to enter the sanctuary reciting the words, "How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!"

Careful readers of text will know these words come from this week's Torah portion, Balak. They are the words of the non-Jewish prophet Balaam, who is paid by the king Balak to curse Israel. Despite his intent, He looks out over the Israelite encampment and proclaims these words instead.

As you might imagine, the rabbis have a field day with this text in their commentaries; but for me, the very fact that we recite a non-Jew's words praising our tents, our houses strikes me as powerful.

How often does it happen that someone enters our home and praises our decor or yard or some other aspect, and all we can see is the crooked picture, the dust, the faded and nicked paint? Likewise as Jews, how often do we see our house in disorder, wring our hands over synagogue attendance or this or that program? And I have seen it when a new person comes and says "what a lovely, warm congregation!" our members fumble with words of gratitude (and there may be some psychology behind that).

I'm not talking about resting on laurels, or being naive. But sometimes we need to hear praise from someone outside our own circle; we need to be affirmed by the one we least expect it from. And perhaps, when we hear that praise, we can see not only the nicks and the dings but also the love and devotion; not only who isn't at a given event, but who IS.

There's plenty that needs to be done in our house. And God knows there is much work to be done in our neighborhood. But there's also a lot to love, a lot that is praiseworthy, and the more we do, perhaps the more we'll feel it is deserved.

So think in your own life: what is worth praising? What is beautiful in your house, what is lovely in your dwelling-place?

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