Blogging the Torah, Parashat Balak: Blessings, Not Curses. Really!

imgresThis week’s parasha literally features an ass. While in this case it means a donkey, it’s an apt word to describe much of what I’ve seen in the media over the last few days, but I digress.

In this week’s parasha, Balak, whose name literally means “waste,” hires Balaam to curse Israel. Balaam finds that he can’t do it and instead, his donkey blesses Israel with the famous words, MaTovu Ohelecha Yaakov, Mishkinotecha Israel. How good are your tents Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel. This piece of text starts our daily morning liturgy.

In the last few days, since the Supreme Court declared gay imagesmarriage legal throughout the land, I’ve heard many curses from this nations leaders (here’s where the asses come in), many of whom want to be President. Ted Cruz, Canadian-born senator from Texas and presidential candidate, said, “The last 24 hours at the United States Supreme Court were among the darkest hours of our nation.” Really? Darker than 911? Slavery? Pearl Harbor?

Former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee called for “Christian leaders to channel Martin Luther King, Jr. by resisting the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage…”I don’t think a lot of pastors and Christian schools are going to have a choice.” Really? There is a little thing called “separation of church and state” in this country. No one can force a clergy person to do a wedding that they don’t want to. As a clergy person, I know this well! And frankly, no one wants 2016possiblegopcontenders101you to marry them if you don’t want to.

Senator Rand Paul, second-generation Presidential candidate, suggests that government should get out of the marriage business altogether. In an op-ed in Time magazine, Paul says, “I believe all Americans have a right to contract.” The libertarian in Paul is suggesting that marriage is all about contracted rights and thinks government control of marriage is out of control. While I don’t disagree with him on the government over-reach issue, I wonder. Really? Is that all marriage is to Paul? A contract? It has nothing to do with love? Community and family recognition? And yes, rights and obligations.  I wonder how Mrs. Paul feels about his comments?

Presidential candidate Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal put out a statement saying, “This decision will pave the way for an all-out assault against the religious freedom rights of Christians who disagree with this decision.” Really? How? How does the marriage of a gay or lesbian couple affect anyone else’s marriage? Would the marriage of a New Orleans couple seep into the governor’s house?

According to the NY Times, right after the Supreme Court decision, Jeb Bush released a statement that he believed in “traditional marriage.” Although, to give him credit, he did say that we should respect one another. But, really? I wonder, what traditional marriage is he talking about?

I hear many say that marriage, like in the Bible, is between one man and one woman. Like Abraham with his wife Sarah and his surrogate wife/mistress Hagar? How about Jacob and his two wives and two concubines? Or is it like King Solomon and King David who have many wives and girlfriends…who can keep track? David was so bad that when he saw Beersheba, he sent her husband to the front line of the battle. Guess she wasn’t married anymore, so she was fair game.

Or is it the traditional marriage of financial exchange? The Talmud says the groom must give the bride “kesef,” gold, the original dowry. Is that the traditional marriage that Jeb Bush speaks of?

donna-reed1Or is it the marriage of the 1950s where dad came home from work, had his scotch and sat down to a dinner made by his stay-at-home wife and perfect children? I clearly remember Donna Reed vacuuming with her pearls on. I couldn’t help noticing that my mother didn’t wear pearls when doing any housework after coming home from her full-time job. Only in Donna Reed or Leave it to Beaver did that really happen.

Or maybe we should look at former GOP presidential candidate and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich for guidance on newt_gingrich_hypocrite_in_chiefmarriage. He has a few ex-wives. He married his first wife Jackie in 1962 and served her divorce papers while on her death bed (or so rumors will have you believe). And then there was Marianne whom he divorced to marry his mistress Calista. Calista is smart to stick close to Newt.

Or maybe it is Republican hero, talk show host, and former pain medication addict Rush Limbaugh who is on his fourth marriage. He did divorce his previous wives, so I guess there was only one at a time. Or Senator John Ensign who confessed to cheating on his wife with a staffer and paying hush money to her husband, his chief of staff. Or Representative Mark Sanford, who as Governor of South Carolina, hiked the Appalachian trail (a.k.a. ran away to South America to be with a mistress), or Senator Larry “wide-stance” Craig of Idaho who tried to pick up a guy in a public bathroom. (A guy? Don’t they usually quote the Bible directly on that one, claiming that is what Leviticus is talking about?) Or Senator David Vitter, a good ole boy from Louisiana, who paid for prostitutes and got reelected. And let’s not forget Representative Mark Foley of Florida who like to communicate with male pages. I’m exhausted, but there are so many more fine examples of Republican traditional marriage! Truth is, if these examples represent traditional marriage, I may have to consider divorce. We used to hear a lot about family values. Guess the aforementioned officials missed that memo.

Two years ago this week, my partner and I went to the NY City Clerk’s office to get a marriage license. They had no problem taking our money for a license and then a nice man apIMG_0887 (1)tly named Angel performed the ceremony. While we wanted to have a chuppah, a Jewish wedding, we thought there was no better way to celebrate the repeal of DOMA and Independence day than by making our 17 year relationship legal. On March 23rd of the following year, we stood under the chuppah with several cantors leading the service and over a minyan of clergy signing our ketubah. As far as I know, in the two years that we have been legally married, no heterosexual marriages have been destroyed. At least not because Pat and I tied the knot.

I don’t spend a lot of time blogging about my personal life, although there is no doubt about me among my colleagues. I try to focus this blog on Torah and prayer and how it sneaks into every aspect of our lives. I try toDSC00380 discuss issues of conscience and change. But if there is even the slightest chance that even one child, one at-risk teen, one troubled GLBTQ person feels better about themselves by reading my story, I say, “Really? Isn’t that what it’s all about?”

I have many gay and lesbian friends who have gotten married, set up homes, and had children, and I’m sure there will be more to come. I celebrate them all (and I’m happy to marry them too!) I also celebrate my heterosexual friends who get married. Marriage is a sacred life cycle event in every religion and I hope that everyone who wants to, gets to experience it! And, really, even if it takes an ass or two to teach us the lesson, isn’t that what it’s all about!

 

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About Gail F. Nalven

Jewish Educator, Rabbi, Tefillah Leader, Songleader, Teacher, and Freelance Jew
This entry was posted in Judaism, Torah and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Blogging the Torah, Parashat Balak: Blessings, Not Curses. Really!

  1. Beth says:

    Thank you, Gail, for another wonderful, well written blog post. I always enjoy reading them and often learn a lot from you.

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