"Then Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? Here I brought you to damn my enemies, and instead you have blessed them!” He [Balaam] replied, “I can only repeat faithfully what the LORD puts in my mouth."
Welcome to the second half of 2020. The last six months have been challenging, to put it lightly. Our society is drastically different than it was in January, with a new lexicon that includes phrases such as “social distancing,” “quarantining,” and “COVID-19.” We saw an awakening to racial justice after George Floyd was killed by a police officer. Geopolitical issues, economic challenges, even murder hornets – we have lived several years in just a few months.
This week’s Torah portion, Hukkat-Balak, includes the story of Balaam, a person sent by Balak,an enemy of Israel, to curse the Israelites. Balaam sets out on his journey to the Israelite camp and on the way deals with a talking donkey, an angel, and a change of heart. Balaam realized that he could not curse the Israelites because God did not want the Israelites to be cursed. Balaam set out with one intention, but the events of the journey brought a completely unexpected twist and changed the course of a nation’s history. He blessed the Israelites rather than cursing them, allowing for a power larger than himself and Balak to determine the words in his mouth and the intentions of his heart.
July 1, 2020 marks my one-year anniversary at JCRC of Greater Washington. One year ago, I walked into the Federation building on Executive Boulevard, received an ID, bought a coffee and pastry at Sunflower Café, and settled into my new space in the JCRC office. Today, my office is in my home, and my days are spent moving from one Zoom meeting to the next. I can’t help but wonder what my first year at JCRC would have looked like without the enormous challenges of the last months, while recognizing that even with the many crises we have endured, it has been an extraordinary experience.
July 1 is a common job starting date for many organizations and companies, as it marks the beginning of a new fiscal year. The Greater Washington area will welcome many new rabbis, educators, and leaders to the community, each filled with hope and fresh ideas. My time at the JCRC thus far has taught me that the intentions and goals at the beginning of the journey are bound to change along the way, bringing powerful lessons that can be a source of strength and inspiration. As Balaam reminds us, we can only do what God has asked us to do, only live the experiences we are given. My prayer for my colleagues, peers, and friends on their first days of work is to fully embrace the experiences you are given, finding the blessings in times that seem to be cursed, and growing as community leaders and professionals.