Tonight, I want to share three very brief stories about love, so that we can help spread that love amongst each other, and across our great nation.
We are stronger together than we are apart.
Judaism displays this with a concept of a minyan. Whenever there is a prayer service, there are certain prayers that can not be said allowed unless there are 10 Jewish adults present. This shows the power of community, friendship and solidarity, but it also teaches the power and of difference diversity.
One of the most interesting stories in the Torah involves a king, a prophet hired by that king, and wouldn't ya know it, a talking donkey.
We read in the book of Numbers that the King Balak hired the prophet Balaam to curse the Israelite people. Balak hated the Israelites, fearing their strange ways and beliefs.
Riding toward the Israelites on a talking donkey, Balaam prepares himself to curse the Israelite people. He positions himself on top of a mountain where he can see all of the Israelites spread out under him. He sees grandparents and grandchildren, he sees people learning, he notices the laughter of friends, he feels the warmth of hearts, he can see that each of the Israelite's tents was open on three sides, in order to be hospitable for guests and strangers. And this is how he chooses to "curse" the Israelites:
Ma Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov, Mishcenot'cha Yisrael - Oh, how good are your tents, oh Jacob, your dwelling places, oh Israel.
What was meant to be a curse turned into a blessing.
Balaam was able to turn his fear of the unknown into understanding, into openness, and into blessing.
If we take the first letter of the Torah and put it next to the last letter of the Torah, we make the Hebrew word, lev, meaning heart. This teaches that religion is not just an intellectual endeavor, but an emotional and spiritual journey. It reminds me that when Rabbi Hillel was asked in the first century to define Judaism, his answer was: That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. It inspires us that love of our neighbor is not only a part of religious practice, it is central to religious practice. As Genesis teaches, each of us is made in B'tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. As such, discrimination against anyone is discrimination against everyone. Showing love to those who seem different than us enhances our relationship with God.
My prayer tonight is for each of us to use the teachings of our religious traditions to spread love and blessing. If we act with love in our hearts, if we understand that each and every human being contains holiness and divinity, we too can become prophets, and we can turn curse and pain into blessing and holiness.