Selected Sermon/Article
2010-06-25 Beyond Twelve Gates (BTG) by Rabbi Zeev Smason
Parshas Balak


Beyond Twelve Gates  -  Rabbi Ze'ev Smason
Parshas Balak   --  June 25, 2010



Welcome to Beyond Twelve Gates.  This Fall, when you see geese heading south for the winter flying along in 'V' formation, you might consider what science has discovered as to why they fly that way.  Fact:  As each bird flaps its wings, it creates an 'uplift' for the bird immediately following.  By flying in a 'V' formation, the whole flock has at least 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own.  Lesson:  People who share a common sense of community and direction can get where they are going more quickly and easily because they are travelling on the thrust of one another.  Fact:  When a goose flies out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone.  It quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front of it.  Lesson: If we have as much common sense as a goose, we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go.  We are willing to accept their help and give our help to others.  It is harder to do something alone than together. 
Henry Ford said, "Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success."   Geese make a lot of noise, but they also have the sense to benefit from flying in formation.  In almost every endeavor, people who succeed are those who work well together with others.
Parshas Balak   Numbers 22:2 - 25:9
This week's portion shifts from the Jewish people's travels in the desert to the story of Bilam, the anti-Semitic prophet who attempted to curse the Children of Israel.  Hired by Balak, the king of Moav,  Bilam embarks upon a journey to the Israelite encampment.  An angel brandishing a sword block's Bilam's path, causing his donkey to repeatedly swerve off the road.  Unable to see the angel, Bilam responds by striking the donkey three times.  Miraculously, G-d causes the donkey to speak to Bilam -- shades of Mr. Ed, the talking horse in the 1960's TV show!   Bilam's eyes are uncovered, and the humiliated prophet sees the angel standing in the path.  The angel reminds Bilam that he may only speak the words that G-d places in his mouth.  Upon arrival near the Jewish camp, Bilam repeatedly attempts to curse the people; each time G-d prevents him from doing so, but instead he ends up uttering several sets of praises, much to Balak's dismay. 
The Torah portion concludes with the Jewish men's debauchery with the promiscuous daughters of Moav and Midian, and the public immoral act of Zimri (a prince of the tribe of Simeon) with a Midianite princess.  Pinchas, Aaron's grandson, zealously responds by piercing them to death with a spear, halting a plague from G-d which had broken out in the camp. 
Rabbinic Ruminations
Harry Houdini was once the most famous escape artist in the world.  He claimed that he could escape from any jail cell in the world, and every time given this challenge, he accepted and did just as promised. He would be left alone in a locked cell and in a few short minutes miraculously escape. But one time, things didn't go as Houdini planned.
A small town in the British Isles built a new jail cell and they were proud of it. Taking up the challenge, Houdini entered the cell with a special lock pick he had designed and hid inside his belt.  Once the jail cell was closed, he took off his coat and set to work with his lock pick. But Houdini had great difficulty with this particular lock. For 30 minutes he worked and got nowhere.  His confident expression disappeared.
An hour passed, and still he had not been able to open the door.  He tried all the tricks of his trade but nothing worked. After two hours, totally exhausted, Houdini literally collapsed against the door. The door swung open and he discovered it had not been locked in the first place! It was locked only to him in his mind.
This story brings to mind a passage in the Talmud which states, "In the future, G-d will slaughter the yetzer hara (evil inclination) and bring it before the righteous and the wicked.  To the righteous, the yetzer hara will appear as a mountain.  The righteous will say, 'How did we conquer that great mountain?'  To the wicked, the yetzer harawill appear as a hair.  The wicked will say, 'How did we fail to conquer that hair?'"
The righteous will be surprised by the difficulty of the challenges they overcame, since they constantly struggled to meet the challenges that life offered.  The wicked will be astonished at how easy their unmet challenges in life were, because they lowered themselves to the point that even easy challenges were difficult.  What lesson does this teach us?  Embrace your challenges.  Success -- with G-d's help -- may be even easier than you think. 
Quote of the Week
Make each day your masterpiece -- John Wooden
Joke of the Week
Morris in Miami calls his son David in St. Louis and says, "I hate to ruin your day, but I have to tell you that your mother and I are divorcing. Forty-five years of misery is enough.  I'm telling you now so that you and your sister shouldn't go into shock when I move out."

"Pop, what are you talking about?" the son screams.

"We can't stand the sight of each other any longer," the father says. "We're sick of each other, and I'm sick of talking about this, so you call your sister in Chicago and tell her," and he hangs up.

Frantic, the son calls his sister Amy, who says, "I'll handle this."  She calls Florida and gets her father on the phone.   Amy pleads with her father, "Daddy, don't do ANYTHING until David and I get there.  We'll be there tomorrow night."   The father says, "All right. I'll wait.  I'll wait."
Morris hangs up his phone and turns to his wife. "Good news, honey," he says.   "The kids are coming for Passover AND they're paying their own airfares!"




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