At the conclusion of the Pentateuch, also the conclusion of Moses’ physical
existence, the biblical text records that “never again did there arise in Israel
a prophet like Moses, whom the Lord knew ‘face to face’” (Deut. 34:10). Our
sages comment, “Never did such a prophet arise among the Israelites, but among
the nations of the world such a prophet did arise – Balaam son of Beor” (Yalkut
This stunning statement indicates that Balaam was not only
gifted with the Divine inspiration of prophecy, but also that he could even be
compared to Moses. And if the task of the prophet is to communicate God’s words
to the people, we must take seriously the words of Balaam the prophet and learn
Indeed, in synagogues throughout the world for thousands of
years, daily prayers begins with the words of Balaam, “How goodly are your
tents, O Jacob, your Sanctuary, O Israel.”
Apparently, Balaam himself was
inspired when “he saw the Israelites dwelling according to their
Rashi, our classical commentary, explains that Balaam was
especially moved by the modesty of their family lives, “that the doors and
windows of the respective homes did not face each other.”
brought the unique quality of their family life, the sanctity of their homes,
into their national institutions: our Temple is Beit Hamikdash, a home of
sanctity; our synagogue, a beit knesset, a home of “gathering” for prayer and
festival celebrations (national togetherness); our study-hall, a beit midrash, a
home of academic analysis.
What is it about the familial home which makes
it so cardinal to Jewish life? What has the familial home to do with our
national institutions? I write these lines at a time when in Western society,
the family as an institution is severely embattled, when many family gatherings
feature “his” children, “her” children and “their” children, when more and more
couples are opting to have no children and when more and more individuals are
opting not to get married at all.
I also write these lines for the
Shabbat when our eight children (four of whom we diapered and four who married
those whom we diapered) and 17 grandchildren will be celebrating with Vicky and
my 50th wedding anniversary (with God’s help). And finally I write these lines
as an ode to Jewish love and Jewish family, in tribute to my beloved
Why family? It’s an institution which limits one’s choice in sexual
partners, and produces children who require much time, energy and expenditure
and often give back heartache (as one European professor said, we have a minus
zero population growth because we cannot abide anything that makes noise and
dirt and we cannot control).
One of God’s earliest judgment calls,
immediately before the creation of Eve, is: “It is not good for the human being
to be alone.”.
“Alone” means first of all, social loneliness; the human
being, endowed with a portion of God from on High, has the ability and the
fundamental need to reach out beyond himself to “other” in communication and
love, and we must emulate the God of love by being people who love.
“alone” also means existential alone-ness, our being limited to our own
circumscribed individual bodies, and our mortal dread of the time when that
individual entity which is “me” will cease to be.
And why children?
Balaam sees that ultimately Israel will triumph; our compassionate righteousness
will triumph over Amalek’s cruel grab for power. Balaam prophesies, “I see from
the beginnings of the rocky mountains, and I look from the hilly plains,” and
Rashi interprets, “I see your origins and roots firmly entrenched in your
matriarchs and patriarchs.”
God charged Abraham to become a great nation
and a blessing to the world; Abraham will command his children and household
(historic family) to do compassionate righteousness, with each Israelite
generation commanding the next until we finally succeed when all the nations
accept a God of morality and peace (Isaiah 2). We receive our identity and
mission from our forebears, and remain optimistic and hopeful because of our
We are deeply rooted in our past and highly responsible for our
future; we are each a golden link in an eternal chain of being; we are each a
crucial part of the great Unfinished Symphony which is Israel.
generations live in us; we live in all future generations. The Yiddish word for
grandchild is ein’i’kel, a combination of two Hebrew words, ein kul – there is
no destruction. We are our grandchildren, and our grandchildren are
In Jewish love and marriage and children we give ourselves to our
life-partners, we give ourselves to our past and to our future, and what we
receive is God’s promise that Israel the nation will never be destroyed, and the
great merit of participating in the historic mission to perfect the world. Our
God-given task is to pass on the baton to our children, our students, and to
people we may touch along the way.
Our synagogues, our learning academies
and even our Holy Temple are passing down those traditions which emanated from
the House of Abraham and Israel, which our forbears bequeathed to the children
of Israel, and which we know contains the road-map to a future
redeemed.Shabbat shalom The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr
Torah Stone colleges and graduate programs and chief rabbi of Efrat.