It's All Good!

Get your SKINNY on in less time than it takes to find a Pokémon.


(the pitch)

This week’s Torah portion reads like a Superhero comic book. It’s named after Balak (bah-lock) who was king of the Moavim (moe-ah-veem; Moabites in English). The Moabites were a Torah-land tribe who lived east of the Dead Sea in present-day Jordan. Back then, Balak had been reading twitter accounts of our peeps’ victories over several nations as they traveled through the desert en route to the Promised Land. (If you’re behind on your newsfeed, read this SKINNY.) Fearing that our people had become too numerous and were too powerful to be defeated in battle, Balak hatched a plan. He found a non-Jewish prophet named Balaam (bah-lahm) who had great Yelp reviews for his magical powers. Balak sent emissaries to hire Balaam to curse the Jews. Balaam told the emissaries he’d consider the gig after discussing it first with God.
God came to Balaam that night in a vision and told him not to curse the Jews because they were blessed. The following morning, Balaam told the emissaries he wouldn’t accept the job offer. Undeterred, Balak sent emissaries who were higher in status to sweeten the deal by offering Balaam huge stock options and onsite lunch catering. Balaam discussed the new offer with God who told him to accept the offer, but he should only do exactly as God told him.
The next day, Balaam was excited to start his new consulting gig as COJ – Curser of the Jews. He awoke early, stopped by Philz for a cup of coffee, and then saddled his donkey to start his early morning commute. But, God got mad at Balaam for being too eager to harm the Jewish people and sent an angel to intercept him on his path. The donkey saw the angel before Balaam did and hightailed it off the path into a field. Balaam got frustrated because he didn’t understand why his donkey was going off path and started hitting him until the angel spoke through the donkey’s mouth to remind Balaam he could only proceed with the COJ job if he did exactly what God said. (Team SKINNY thinks Balaam might’ve been stoopid.)
Balaam met up with Balak and told him that God was orchestrating his actions and words. Balak was cool with that because he was convinced that God would be on board with the cursing plan. Balaam and Balak then traveled to a hilltop where they could see our peeps’ campsite. Once there, Balaam told Balak to build 7 altars and bring 7 bulls and 7 rams as an offering to God. (If you’re nostalgic for the Torah’s fav #7 read this SKINNY.) Balaam left Balak alone with the altars and set out to get instructions from God. When Balaam ran into God, he told him about the 7 altars with 7 bulls and 7 rams. God seemed jazzed about it, but told Balaam he couldn’t curse the Jews because they were God’s peeps. Balaam returned to Balak, gave him the news, and then blessed our peeps instead of cursing them.
Balak was like, “What up Balaam!? I hired you to curse my enemies and you blessed them instead!?”And Balaam was like, “God doesn’t want them to be cursed.” Balak was insistent that Balaam try again to curse our peeps. He took him to two other places in the hopes that God would allow the cursing to commence. At each location, they built 7 altars and offered up 7 bulls and 7 rams. Each time, God told Balaam to bless our peeps instead of cursing them, and he did. Balak got really P.O.’d at Balaam and fired him.


(the over think)

Balaam blessed our peeps three different times instead of cursing them as Balak had recruited him to do. Balaam’s third blessing is the basis of a prayer called Mah Tovu (mah-toe-voo), which means how goodly! Today, Mah Tovu is traditionally recited in the morning as we enter the synagogue, but it’s also sung at summer camps, at bat/bar mitzvahs, and just about anytime Jews are in a singing and praising mood. It goes like this:
Ma tovu ohalecha Ya’akov,
Mish’k’no’techa Yisrael.
Va’ani b’rov chas’d’cha avo veitecha,
Eshtachaveh el heichal kod-sh’cha b’yiratecha.

How goodly are your tents, Jacob,
Your dwelling places, Israel,
In your abundant loving kindness, God, let me enter your house,
With reverence to worship in your holy temple.


(to be in-the-know)

Genealogy SKINNIES know that Jacob’s lovely tents in Mah Tovu is actually referring to all of us! Here’s why: Jacob was one of the patriarchs in our peep’s family tree. Abraham and Sarah were his grandparents, Isaac and Rebecca were his parents, and Jacob’s own sons became the 12 Tribes of Israel. Jacob was also one of the names for the Jewish people in the Torah. The Jewish people are called B’nei Yisrael (b’neigh yis-rah-el), which means: Children of Israel or Israelites in English. Jacob was renamed Israel after he wrestled with an angel. (Read this SKINNY for Jacob’s ancestry and angel-tussling.) The Torah considers all of us to be descendants of the Children of Israel, and therefore, Jacob/Israel. So, the first line in Mah Tovu: “How goodly are your tents, Jacob” means: “How awesome is the Jewish community!”


(bookmark. reflect. share)

Modesty aside, Mah Tovu also expresses our desire to be with God and the aspiration that our “tents” (families, homes, and communities) will always be welcoming and “goodly”. Team SKINNY thinks of Mah Tovu as the original “OMG!” The prayer extends gratitude for everything good in life. When we wake up in the morning, we have a choice to either say, “Oy!” or “Wow!” Mah Tovu encourages us to go with “Wow!”


(the chew on)

Mah Tovu has been recorded with a bazillion different tunes. Team SKINNY’s fav is the one by rock star Cantor Marsha Attie and while we’re at it, we also love Heart of Mine by Cantor Attie.



This email was sent to <<Email Address>>
why did I get this?    unsubscribe from this list    update subscription preferences
The Jewish Skinny · 880 Harrison Street Suite 301 · San Francisco, CA 94107 · USA

Email Marketing Powered by MailChimp