Immediately I looked- the Uber was half way down the street! I took off running like my pants were on fire. The car started to slow down- yes! He sees me! But then he went over a speed bump and… started accelerating again!
Adrenaline pumping, I ran even faster. I yelled for him to stop. He approached a second speed bump, slowed down, and… yes! He stopped!
As I reached his car, he handed me the phone out of the driver’s side window. “You’re a fast runner!” he said.
“Not usually,” I replied.
The body has tremendous potential, usually untapped. But in the moment of emergency, that potential can be unleashed. When I was little I remember hearing a story of a woman who lifted a car to save her child who had become trapped.
But there’s another potential of the body besides its physical potential- the potential to save you by lifting the weight of ego, under which you may have become trapped. Have you ever been motivated by negativity or craving to do something that would have terrible consequences, and in that emergency your body gave you the message to stop and turn back?
In this week’s reading, Balak king of Moab becomes frightened of the Israelites who are camping in a nearby valley, so he petitions the prophet/sorcerer Bilam to curse the Israelites. As Bilam rides out on his donkey to the Israelite camp, there is a strange and unique passage- one of only two instances in the Torah of talking animals (the other one being the talking serpent in the Garden of Eden).
Bilam rides his donkey through a vineyard, when an angel blocks the path with sword drawn. But only the donkey can see the angel; Bilam is oblivious to it. The donkey veers off the path to avoid the sword-wielding angel, and accidentally presses Bilam’s foot into a wall. Bilam gets mad and hits donkey with a stick, at which point the animal opens her mouth and speaks:
“Ma asiti l’kha-
“What have I done to you that you hit me?”
Bilam yells back-
“Because you mocked me! If I had a sword I’d kill you right now!”
Says the donkey-
“Am I not your donkey that you’ve ridden until this day? Have I ever done anything like this before?”
Then Bilam’s eyes are “uncovered” and he too sees the angel with the sword. Bilam bows, prostrates, apologizes, and goes up the mountain to view the Israelite camps.
When Bilam opens his mouth to pronounce the curse, his mouth utters a blessing instead:
“Lo hibit avein b’Ya’akov-
“(The Divine) sees nothing bad in Jacob...
“Mah tovu ohalekha Yaakov, mishkenotekha Yisrael-
“How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places O Israel…”
The donkey is your body- the beast you live in. You may think you want to say something, but your words will be a curse if you can’t “see the angel.” But the donkey sees it- and the donkey can talk!
What is the blessing that God “wants” you to say?
Your body is the gateway to this awareness, if you become present. Connect with your body, open your mouth and let the blessing come through.
But, the question may arise:
Isn’t the body also a hindrance to consciousness and wisdom? Isn’t your body the source of negativity and cravings?
In Kabbalah, one of the symbols for wisdom is fire- as in the fire that Moses saw at the burning bush. This is the fire of Reality becoming conscious- the fire that looks through your eyes, reading these words, right now.
But fire is also a symbol of destruction- of craving and negativity- as in the plague of hail and fire that rained down on the Egyptians. This is the fire of anger and craving, seducing you to satisfy its every impulse, then leaving you unsatisfied, with a trail of unwanted consequences.
Both of these manifestations of fire, however, are teachers of wisdom- if only you learn to discern whether it’s the fire of “yes” or the fire of “no.”
“Yes” to love, “no” to reaching- to seeing fulfillment outside yourself. “Yes” to blessing, “no” to the impulses that keep you stuck.
There’s a story that when Reb Yosef Yitzhak of Lubavitch was four years old, he asked his father, Reb Shalom Ber:
“Abba, why do we have two eyes, but only one mouth and one nose?”
“Do you know your Hebrew letters?” asked Reb Shalom Ber.
“Yes,” replied the boy.
“And what is the difference between the letter shin and the letter sin?” continued Reb Shalom.
“A shin has a dot on the right side, and the sin on the left.”
“Right! Now, the letter shin represents fire, and fire makes the light that we see by. The dots on the right and left are like your two eyes.
“Accordingly, fire has two opposite qualities. On one hand, it can give us life by keeping us warm and cooking our food; that’s the right dot. On the other hand, it can burn us; that’s the left dot.
“Similarly, there are things you should look at with your right eye, and things you should look at with your left eye. You should see others with your right eye, and candy with your left eye!”
On this Shabbat Balak, the Sabbath of Body-Blessing, may we keep our awareness deeply connected to our senses and our breathing, so that the fire of Presence burns brightly with wisdom and with love. May we not identify with the urgencies of craving and negativity, and know that through the power of Presence, we are totally free from their power. And may the warmth and light of that freedom deepen more and more…