The Torah portion of this week is called Balak. The name is that of the Moabite king who wished to destroy the Israelites. In order to make this easier, Balak hired the pagan prophet Balaam to curse the Israelites in order to weaken them. In Pirkei Avot 5:19 we read that whoever possesses an ayin tovah, a good eye, is of the disciples of Abraham. Whereas one who possesses an ayin ra’ah, an evil eye, is of the disciples of Balaam.
Abraham looked at the good in every situation. Perhaps this is best seen in the defense of Sodom and Gemorrah. Abraham searched for the good that would save these towns from destruction. Balaam did not bother. He was willing to help Balak destroy the Israelites. He, unlike Abraham, saw the world within an ayin ra’ah, an evil eye. It is ironic that Abraham could not save the two cities while Balaam ends up blessing the Israelites and not cursing them, thus foiling Balak’s plan to destroy them.
How do you see the world? Do you possess an ayin tovah, a good eye that allows you to see the good despite the darkness? Or do you see the world through the lens of an ayin ra’ah, an evil eye that blocks out the good allowing the darkness to prevail. Today I fear that too many succumb to the perspective of Balaam, only seeing the negative, allowing the evil to dominate the vista.
Many today look at the crisis in our southern border and only see what fear allows them to see. They see criminal invaders who are looking to harm us, our families, and our nation. Reacting out of this fear, seeing only with an ayin ra’ah, an evil eye, does not allow for one to see the goodness of humanity; to see fellow human beings, seeking safety, refuge, and opportunity. These human beings, forced from their home country by violence and poverty, are looking for refuge and a place where they can rebuild their lives and raise their families. Just as my family did and many of yours, as well. How easy it is to react from a place of fear created by the view of the evil eye. How important it is to reframe our response through the lens of the good eye. The good eye, as it did in Abraham, sees injustice and speaks out against it. The good eye, moves us to act in accordance with the command to “care for the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
To be a disciple of Abraham we must be committed to see the good. This is increasingly hard as our society become more and more polarized. The dominant idea is that if you do not believe what I do you are my enemy. Our tradition calls on us to reject this attitude, to see the good even coming from people who hold ideas different from our own, to possess an eye that sees good when it is most difficult to do so.
As a congregation we strive to look with a good eye, to be able to see the good and focus our attention on how we can build on that foundation. The prophet Jeremiah calls upon us to seek the Shalom of the people among whom we live, for by their Shalom, will we have Shalom. How true this is of us, the members of this vibrant congregation. When we seek the Shalom, the well-being, the wholeness of one another we, too, enjoy that same gift. We are not a congregation of Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives. We are a congregation of human beings striving to lead lives of blessing in accordance with Jewish values. Let us be as the disciples of Abraham who possess a good eye that opens us to this reality. Let us make room for ideas and views that are different from our own in social justice responses and in Israel advocacy as well as worship and study. Perhaps this is why our founders allied themselves with the prophet Jeremiah. Though he was not an easy person in any way, shape, or form, he was a disciple of Abraham who possessed a good eye, an ayin tovah. May this Shabbat find each of us seeing the world this way seeking the well-being of the people living where we live even when we disagree for “with their well-being shall we enjoy the same.”
Rabbi Paul F. Cohen, D.Min., D.D.