"Now, please go and curse these people for me, for they are too strong for me. Then, perhaps, I will prevail, strike them down, and drive them from the land. For I know that whomever you bless is blessed, and whomever you curse is cursed." (Numbers 22:6)
As you probably know, this plan backfired badly for Balak. From the beginning, Balaam told him that he could only say the words that God put in his mouth. The prophecy that Balaam spoke upon Israel was not a curse, but a blessing.
So here's a question: If you had a prophet in your employ whom you believed had the power to bless and curse effectively, would you ask that prophet to curse your enemies, or would you ask the prophet to bless you?
A commentary on this week's Torah portion (Balak) asks just this question. "Would it not have made more sense for Balak to ask Balaam to bless Moab with victory in battle?" asks the commentary of Beit Ramah. "We learn from this that the essential intention of Israel’s enemies is not to seek their own benefit, but to harm Israel. Their anger at Israel does not flow from love of their own people, but hatred of Israel." (Itturei Torah, Vol. 5, p. 141).
I will leave it to you, dear reader, to evaluate how well that observation reflects the history of antisemitism and the current situation of the State of Israel. You may believe that Beit Ramah has a keen insight about Israel's antagonists in the past and in the present. However, I want to consider instead what this commentary says about each of us.
Who would you rather be — a person who puts energy into building up his or her own self, or a person who puts energy into tearing others down? Are you a person whose primary motivation comes from the desire to create love and connection in your own life, or a person who is primarily interested in knocking down opponents?
We all have a place within us that would rather draw on the energy created by our animosities than the energy of our better natures. We all have an impulse to spend our time in conflict with the people and things that trouble us, instead of investing that time in building connections to people we care about and developing our strengths. Each of us, sometimes, lets the cursing impulse rule us.
At such times, though, we usually fail to notice that the choice to pursue conflict almost always backfires. Think about the last time you put your energy into fighting against someone or something you defined as your "enemy." Was the outcome what you had hoped for? Did the problem go away, or did it just reappear in another form? Did the experience create joy in your life, or did it just make you feel angrier?
In contrast, when we put our focus on blessing instead of curse, we become more connected, compassionate and happier. When we face conflicts by looking inward for the ability to deal with difficult situations, we may find that resolution comes more easily than when we begin by assuming the worst about others. It also makes us feel better about ourselves and helps us to find unexpected solutions. I don't think there is any guarantee that this will happen every time, but it usually works.
Personally, I find this to be true when I face difficult classroom management situations as a teacher. Instead of assuming that misbehaving students are malicious brats, I try to focus instead on myself. I ask questions about my behavior as a teacher: Am I giving students material that is appropriate for them? Are they misbehaving because I am not meeting their needs? Because I am not recognizing their abilities and limitations? Am I boring them? By seeking the blessing of being a better teacher — instead of cursing the bad behavior of the students — I find greater fulfillment and greater success in the classroom.
It is easy for adult teachers to see children in a classroom as innocents, unworthy of our anger. Harder situations come when we feel like we are being treated badly or that we are being taken advantage of in a business setting or the realm of politics. There are times when we really can believe that we are in conflict with people who do not respect us and who do not wish us well. I will argue, though, that even in those situations, we are better off when we focus on blessing and not curse.
This is not because there aren't real causes for conflict in life and it is not because there are no real enemies. However, when we fight against enemies, real or imagined, our fuel is our fear and our anger. When we draw energy from those feelings, they begin to define us. An unremitting focus on conflict and enmity tends to turn us into the very thing we find fearful and enraging in others. Our anger makes us contentious, belligerent, unfriendly, unkind, unyielding and unhappy.
That is the lesson that the State of Israel has learned in dealing with its sometimes belligerent neighbors. It is better to focus on taking care of ourselves and our loved ones than to waste breath on cursing and fearing those whose opinions and behaviors we cannot change. If we must fight, let's fight for ourselves, not against enemies.
As Balak learned, God does not always respond well when we seek to curse our enemies. However, when we take the time and energy to look inward, to redefine the problem in a way that includes our own behavior, and to confront our own anger and fears, we find blessings where once before we only saw a curse.
Other Posts on This Topic:
Ki Tetze: Each of Us Fights a Battle
Balak: Seeing God's Image in Our Enemies