Moving is easy – said no one, ever.
Moving is stressful and time-consuming. While I have continued to contemplate the teachings and messages of the Torah portions of the past couple of weeks, it was more than I could accomplish to actually sit down and put thought to paper.
But this week – words of blessing abound, their offering unintended. I could not pass up making the time to reflect upon this, as this week I enter a new community that is welcoming me with great love and blessing. The fairly well-known verse from this Torah portion that has made its way into our daily liturgy: “Ma Tovu ohalecha Ya’akov, mishkenotecha Yisrael” [Numbers 24: 5]– ‘How beautiful are your tents O Jacob, your dwelling places O Israel’ – are unintended words of blessing uttered by the Aramean seer Balaam, as he aims to place a curse upon the Israelites on behalf of Balak, the Moabite king.
I am blessed with an amazing opportunity in my new role, a new leader in a congregation. As a cantor, my job is to employ the weaving of music and language to set the foundation for an atmosphere of kedusha – sacred space and intention. I am now blessed to work with a colleague who not only gives me the space and empowerment to do so, but he does it in partnership with me, a journey of leadership and prayer which we now undertake together in service of our congregation.
Ma Tovu – words of blessing of space, of generations. Balaam knows in the end that even if he wanted to curse the Israelites, “…even if Balak gives me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot transgress the word of the Lord to do either good or evil on my own; only what the Lord speaks can I speak.” (Numbers 24:13) Balaam intention is transformed upon his encounters with our God – the Holy One of Blessing. The words become transformed by the intention and power of blessing.
As I move into a new space – a new office, a new sanctuary, a new home, a new town, a new state, what I believe will infuse kedusha into my days is not the inherent qualities in each of these places, but what I bring to it, what I say and do in each of those spaces. While we will place a mezuzah upon the doorway of our new home, uttering words that invoke the transformation of intention, it is how I behave inside the walls of my house that will it a home.
In Exodus 25:8, we read of God’s instructions for the building of the desert tabernacle, the purpose of which was to ‘…Build for Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.’ To dwell among the people. The holy space is not for God to live, but for us to experience the Divine Presence. Hence, the purpose of the space becomes what we bring to it, that we actually create the space, and through our actions and intentions as we enter into a space we make it holy and can therefore experience God. Through word – touching our intellect, inspiring the mind, and through aesthetic – art, music, color, sound – each piece open channels of holiness that go beyond the intellect to the heart.
Ma Tovu – This blessing in Torah reminds us that the spaces in which we dwell can be filled with blessing because of who we are and what we do there. The words spoken, the music sung, the intention with which we create an atmosphere of prayer is what makes the walls of a sanctuary come alive with kedusha, with that spark of the sacred. Ma Tovu – How beautiful are our tents, O Jacob, our dwelling places O Israel, when we speak and act, sing and pray in those places in ways with the kavanah – the inner direction – that invites God to dwell among us. For me, I pray that I bring blessing to each new place and space that I inhabit.