Theme: You keep running into obstacles if You are doing the wrong Thing
Before I start my speech, I'd like to say a couple thank yous. Thank you all for attending this special event. Especially, my parents, my brother, and my grandparents. I'd like to thank Binah Polay for helping me with my reading from the Torah. Also, Rabbi Margaret Holub for helping me pull this speech together. And thank you Mina and Miriam for helping me with Hebrew since I was four. I'm very pleased that many of my relatives from around the country have shown up.
My torah portion talks about Balam. Even though he wasn't Jewish, he still had a relationship with G-d. He is sometimes portrayed as a bad wizard. The story takes place as tens of thousands of Israelites are crossing the desert. This threatens the king of Moab who hires Balam to curse the Israelites. Balam at first refuses and finally agrees saying he can only guarantee a curse if god says it's ok. G-d does not grant him that wish. He's off to do his hired deed when his donkey veers off the road ... again ... and again ... and again! Balam gets upset and beats his donkey. He starts off again and the donkey stops for no apparent reason and lays down. He beats the donkey again and the donkey finally turns its head and says: "Why are you beating me? Haven't I served you well all my life?" Now, only two times in the torah do animals talk. The other time is during the Adam and Eve episode.
Balam realizes this is quite bizarre and finally wakes up and gets the picture. He looks forward to see what the donkey had already seen, an angel with a sword drawn ready to slice and dice. The angel is there to prevent Balam from cursing the Israelites ... Balam realizes he has no quarrel with the Israelites ... Originally, he had a personal motive of earning money, and increasing his reputation. This blinded him until he finally smelled the coffee, or in this case, heard the donkey ... Balam had a talent ... the power of speech. With this power, he could scare people, or persuade them.
As Balam looked down on the Israelites camps, He blessed them, rather than curse them. He composed the poem or prayer that begins:
"Mah tovu ohalecha Ya'akov ... how lovely are your tents, oh Jacob, your dwelling places, oh Israel."
When youu have a bad intention or haven't learned a lesson. you will have obstacles in the way. These obstacles are asking you if what you are doing is the right or wrong thing, believe me I know. Have you ever heard voices in the back of your thoughts? ... Do you spend much time talking to yourself? ... Has a dream ever talked to you? These are signs telling you to wake up!!!! Smell the donkey; there are obstacles in front of you! ... Balam's bad intentions were his greed and his belief that G-d couldn't possibly know what he was going to say on behalf of the king of Moab. The donkey's talking finally got Balam to think correctly.
Let's say your setting off in your car to dump your garbage on your arch rival's lawn. As soon as you pull out of your driveway, your car stalls ... Once you fix the broken car, you're on your way again and your wheel falls off ... You get really mad and kick your other tire ... as luck would have it, the tire pops. Driving on two wheels, your chassis breaks ... man your having a bad day. Lucky for you there's a service in sight. So you start pushing your car, for some reason it gets easier to push, hey! Your not pushing it, it's rolling by itself right into the service station, ... BABOOM!!!! ...
You weren't thinking, you were too hung up on an ulterior motive.
Here's what got me thinking: I used to love making my English teacher mad and turn the class into a laughing riot. I learned that it normally cost me an after school detention and a referral, or a threat of Saturday school if I got the class rolling in the aisles. After 13 referrals, 7 after school detentions and 6 lunch detentions, I learned my limits even thought it took a semester and a half. The thrill of wresting power away from him blinded me. The obstacles to my outcome were the referrals.
What functions do obstacles serve? Good question. Obstacles cause you to ask yourself, "is it worth it to continue this path?" They provide a "life lesson" that can change your original plan. Obstacles can help you evolve into a better person. Becoming a better person can help us make the world a better place.
Habits such as driving our cars to the corner to pick up a newspaper after having driven out several times earlier that day are an example of us not having learned our lesson about what causes ozone depletion and its implications ...Then we learn that frogs are mutating. ... Then skin cancer has becomes more common ... A friend of mine (Carl) who works outside is going to have a scare with skin cancer if he doesn't start wearing sunscreen everyday ... Caaarrrll, am I your donkey? This is like the donkey in the story; Skin cancer and mutated frogs are talking to us warning us to change our direction while we still can. Obstacles can tell us to start laying off our car and quit destroying the ozone before its too late. Hopefully like Balam we will hear and see our path needs to be more ecological and less consumer oriented before it's too late. Here is a fun fact: If all U.S. commuters didn't drive to work 1 and 1/4 days a week, we could eliminate the need for oil from the middle east. A little bit at a time starts to add up to some very positive results.
What does it take to overcome the big obstacles in today's world? ... We have to hear each other. We need to care for the earth and each other. Why is it taking so long? ... We need to question our motives. What donkey does the world need to hear? ... A lot of people keep running into the same obstacles over ... and over again ... They can't see or hear what's going on, ... because they don't question their motives. So what can we learn from obstacles? ... the choice is yours ... [ Thank you,]
Copyright 1999 Elliot Rubin
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