Track Records Count by Aviva Meshwork
Aviva Meshwork is an educator, writer, and Trip Director for the JWRP. Originally from Toronto, she now lives in Israel with her husband and 4 children.
It’s Monday morning, 8:00 and the house is a mess. The only way I can stand looking at it this way is because I know that in 15 short minutes, my dear cleaning lady is coming to clean. Oh, how I love her.
But now it’s 8:16 and she’s still not here- I am starting to panic. 8:17. Where is she??? 8:18- and the dishes somehow look like they are spilling out of the sink. In my head I begin breaking my plans for the day because I am sure that I will be stuck home cleaning this mess since SHE’S NOT COMING! 8:19 and I’m sweating, 8:20- I am pacing and by 8:22 I can’t stand it anymore so I pick up the phone to call her and as I do, the door bell rings! It’s the cleaning lady!!! I feel so much better.
I pretty much go through this every Monday morning and have so for the past 2 years since this lovely lady has been helping us clean our home. My husband calmly watches this play out while going about his morning as if he’s not worried. But that’s because he’s not. A) I worry about the mess in the house enough for the both of us and B) he knows that she is coming because as he always tells me while I am in the middle of my ‘Where-is-the-cleaning-lady-already???!!!’ panic, “what are you worried about? You know she always comes. She is reliable. She will be here or else she would have called.” He’s right.
That brings me to this week’s parsha (Torah reading), called Parashat Balak. This parsha is laden with many lessons and insights, but there is one that I want to draw from in particular.
In this parsha, the vehemently anti Semitic King Balak of Moab wanted to wage war with the Jews. He noted their previous victories and remarked on how numerous they were becoming, and thus wanted to ‘protect’ his people from them. As part of his preliminary preparations, King Balak requested that the prophet Balaam go out first and curse the Jews in an effort to weaken them. This, as King Balak pointed out, would greater enable a potential victory, “For I know that whomever you (Balaam) bless is blessed and whomever you curse is accursed.” (Numbers 22:8)
After much convincing, Balaam obliged, but pledged only to say that which G-d told him to say. In any case, he saddled his donkey and set forth to give his curse to the Jews on behalf of King Balak.
This is where it gets interesting. We learn that G-d was angry that Balaam was going to do this and sent angels to obstruct his path and challenge his course- angels that were only visible by the donkey that Balaam was riding on.
Here is the account of the first angel sighting; “The she-donkey saw the angel of Hashem standing on the road with his sword drawn in his hand, so the she-donkey turned away from the road and went into the field; then Balaam struck the she-donkey…” (Numbers: 23-24). In other words, the donkey saw the angel coming to kill Balaam and moved Balaam away from it.
The second angel holding a knife, appeared to the donkey again by a vineyard. For a second time, the donkey protected her master by dodging the angel. However while doing so, Balaam’s leg got hurt accidentally. Balaam, angry and annoyed at his donkey for hurting him, struck her for a second time. That’ll teach her!
Angel sighting number 3 and this time the angel confronted them in a narrow place where it was impossible for the donkey to turn left or right in order to protect Balaam. However, the loyal donkey crouched to avoid the angel and in doing so angered Balaam even more. From what Balaam could tell, his donkey did 3 terrible things so far, all of which were either annoying or painful and certainly were considered bad behavior. Full of rage at this third ‘terrible’ act, he hit his donkey with his staff! In Balaam’s calculation, his donkey deserved a good smacking each time- and that’s what she got! (Remember, only the donkey saw the angels. Balaam was unaware.)
However, Hashem performed a huge miracle, and enabled the donkey to speak! After her third hit, the donkey said the following; “What have I done to you that you struck me these three times? (Numbers 22:28) (Yes! A talking donkey!) Balaam’s response to her was that he felt she was mocking him and that had he had a sword he would have killed her for it! To which the donkey replied a most impressive answer, one that I would like us all to learn from. She said; “Am I not your she-donkey, that you have ridden upon me all your life until this day? Have I been accustomed to do such a thing to you?” (Numbers 22:30) At that point, Balaam’s eyes were “uncovered” by G-d and he saw the angel with the knife that his donkey was so loyally trying to protect him from. Now Balaam understood.
But what was the donkey really saying when she asked; “have I been accustomed to do such a thing to you?” (mocking him). In fact, the donkey was asking something very deep. Essentially she was asking Balaam why he didn’t trust her lengthy flawless track record. A track record that even Balaam agreed is full of years of dutiful service. The donkey was never known to ‘mock’ her servant or to do anything but her job loyally. So why did he react so harshly to her?
Instead of thinking about his donkey’s proven past loyal behavior, Balaam narrowed in on his donkey’s current ‘bad’ behavior- a one off, isolated incident. He didn’t stop to investigate what the unusual behavior was being caused by and assumed bad things about her, solely based on this. He acted as if her good reputation counted for nothing, and focused (and punished) the bad behavior.
Rabbi Wallerstein draws this idea out even further and applies it to our everyday lives. As parents, and maybe educators, we know our children well. If they are generally good kids, achieving good grades and practice good social norms but then start acting strangely and grades start dropping and negative behavior starts popping up-it’s a sign that something is likely wrong. If something has gone off course, then there is likely a good reason. Is the point to punish or is there something more productive to do?
This works both ways as Rabbi Wallerstein points out. Children usually predict typical responses from their parents. “If I do ‘A’, my parents will be so ________ at /with me!” However, if once in a while the parents’ response is unusual there is likely a very good reason. My 4 year old was shocked when I reacted harshly to him when he went next to a pool without his lifejacket. He cried when I scolded him for this because he is not used to that type of reaction from me. From his perspective, mommy was being mean. From mine, I was saving his life, now and in the future.
If he had the maturity he would understand that my track record doesn’t include a lot of those types of reactions, so something must be up!
This of course extends to G-d as well. If you usually enjoy good health, a good livelihood and other wonderful blessings, may they continue! But if something should change in a way that you don’t like or understand, this perspective that I am sharing suggests that there is a good reason that G-d is doing that and you likely don’t see that good right now. It’s the old story of the guy who was so angry and upset after having missed his plane destined for an important trip only to find out later that that very plane crashed over the sea. Not always do we get to see the reasons why things happen but, according to this perspective, G-d is protecting us from potentially terrible things. Better a lesser issue, then a much larger one.
If you reflect on G-d’s track record you may see that He has a very good one. He holds the world up (yes I know it is called gravity, but Who created that?), He gives us air, water, love in our lives and life itself ! The sun rises and sets, every day without fail…that’s quite a track record!
Let’s learn a lesson from a donkey- track records count. If someone doesn’t seem to be their usual self or normal circumstances change (i.e. missed flight) chances are something is wrong or you are being protected from something. It’s all for the good!