This week’s Torah portion, Balak, contains a very identifiable section from our morning liturgy. “How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel: May tovu ohalecha Ya’akov, mishkenotecha Yisrael.” This “curse” turned blessing, offered by the prophet Balaam, sees beauty in the places of God’s people. While it begins as a recognition of their physical encampment — and thus serves in liturgy as a recognition of the beauty of our sacred spaces — the poem goes on to describe an idyllic scene:
“Like palm groves that stretch out, like gardens beside a river, like aloes planted by God, like cedars beside the water; their boughs drip with moisture, their roots have abundant water.” The Israelite camp, then, is an oasis in the desert containing physical and spiritual nourishment for all who enter. That should be the goal of our sacred spaces to this day: a chance to refresh, the repair, to envision the ideal that we might be better empowered to make it real.
– Rabbi Aaron Meyer