Parashat Balak offers a common theme - the evil ruler Balak, the King of Moab, is afraid of being overpowered by another more powerful group of people, the Israelites. Balak hires the prophet Balaam to place a curse on the Israelites to destroy them. This is when the Israelites are about to enter Canaan. Will they actually inherit the Promised Land, or will Balaam use his prophetic powers to thwart them?
Balaam, the Midianite prophet, agrees to curse the Israelites and destroy them. God tells Balaam that the Israelites are a blessed people and are not to be cursed. Balaam is to follow God’s directions exactly as they are given. The donkey carrying Balaam to Moab sees an angel of God. The angel bars the donkey from moving forward, and Balaam beats the donkey for not moving. God gives the donkey a voice, who then reprimands Balaam for being so cruel. Balaam finally sees the angel who reminds him to follow God’s words exactly. Balaam blesses the Israelites and prophesies the destruction of Moab. Balak flees in anger and returns to Moab. Baalam now obeys only that which God orders him to do.
As we move forward to the present, I am sad to say there are “Balaks” in every part of the world. Back in 1913, women, especially Jewish women involved in their temples, saw the need to get involved in matters outside the temple. As a result, The National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods was formed and later evolved to be called the Women of Reform Judaism, now an international organization. These early members fought for women’s right to vote and other important issues. Now we support laws to stop racial and religious discrimination and walk in many local and North American demonstrations to address other injustices around the world. WRJ supports refraining from using products made in factories using child labor. Another area of concern is human trafficking which is rampant around the globe, as well as reaching our own shores.
Love of humanity, rather than hate, has made it possible for us to approach many problems with interfaith cooperation. In many areas churches, synagogues, and mosques have banded together to hold walks and discussions supported by our sisterhoods and WRJ on issues such as gun violence prevention and immigration.
WRJ has its own UN representatives including, Leslie Brier, who attends the UN almost weekly. She doesn’t just listen; she speaks out when necessary. Our organization is kept apprised of new developments as they occur. Leslie also represents the World Union of Progressive Judaism at the UN and attends WUPJ meetings as another way of gathering information that will help us plan new projects to fight the evil “Balaks” of the world.
Let us continue supporting WRJ, a positive force in making our world a better place.
Fonda Hartman has been active in the Main Line Reform Temple Sisterhood since 2008, holding a variety of positions on its board. As a trustee of the Temple, Fonda acts as a conduit between the two Boards. She is an Area Director for the Atlantic District and is currently a member of the WRJ Board.