As sundown approaches, our Mitzvah Corps community is preparing for the Sabbath, and connecting to their role in the fight for social justice, in vastly different ways. For some, this Shabbat provides the first opportunity they have to connect their time in Chicago and Costa Rica to their lives back home. For others, it’s just the beginning of their time in Seattle, Ecuador and Costa Rica, and their exposure to the communities and experiences they’re in for. And for even more, they’re deeply immersed in their programs in New Jersey and Israel, working through the challenges and learning opportunities that have presented themselves along the way.
This week’s Torah portion, Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9), is most commonly known for the story of Balaam, who, when he tried to curse the Israelites, instead blessed them with the prayer that still reverberates around the world today, “Hinei mah tov uma’nayim, shevet achim gam yachad; How good and pleasant it is for us to be together.” But contrary to the common story that the intended curse was magically turned into a blessing, the preceding moments were fraught with struggle. Knowing Balaam’s intentions, God sent an angel to intercept him, which succeeded as a distraction but not a deterrent; three different times, from three different vantage points, Balaam attempted to pronounce his curses, and each time, God had to intervene to ensure that blessings came out instead.
Similarly, our participants are learning that justice and equality don’t automatically spout from malicious intent. Every situation or societal structure that, intentionally or not, brings harm upon others requires a meaningful and intentional intervention, sometimes over and over again. As Theodore Parker noted, and great leaders since have reiterated, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. As our teens build a foundational understanding for the ways that Judaism empowers them to be agents of change, they are beginning to appreciate that the ability to step in, to turn a curse into a blessing, lies with them. The responsibility is significant, but if anyone is up for the challenge, it’s our Mitzvah Corps community.
Director of Strategic Partnerships & Development