Religion, Faith, and Belief in God are amazing things. Our faith traditions allow us to connect to our ancestors, be a link to our descendants, and help us recognize the holiness, in places, interpersonal relationships, and moments in time. Such ritual allows us to appreciate God’s divine presence in our everyday lives. Religion allows us to act as God’s messengers and spread God’s message.
Religion and Belief in God is a beautiful thing… but it is also a scary thing. In the name of religion, in the name of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and other religions of the Western and Eastern Worlds, we have preached love, peace, and helping those in need. However, in the name of these same faith-based traditions, some have preached hatred towards another, bigotry, and cursed another.
Last Shabbat, we read from the Torah portion Balak, in which the villainous King Balak hires the wizard Balaam to offer a curse to the Israelites, based on the belief that one who is blessed shall be blessed and one who is cursed shall be cursed. Time and time again Balaam tries to curse the people of Israel, but in the end, only words of blessing come out. It is from this narrative that we first read the familiar liturgical verse: Mah Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov, Mishkenotecha Yisrael, How lovely are your dwelling places people of Jacob, your sanctuaries people of Israel.
Balaam explains to Balak that he cannot simply curse a people; he can only say whatever comes out of his mouth. He specifically notes that he cannot say what God does not allow him to say and only says the words that God puts in his mouth. God does not allow Balaam to speak hate in God’s name. Rather, God only allows love to be preached as God’s word.
The lesson from this narrative is an important one for all of us. Religion does not teach us to hate each other or hate someone that is different from us. God does not teach us to curse someone because of race, religious belief, sexual orientation, gender, disability, or ethnicity. God does not allow such words to come out of our mouths. Religion teaches us to look at another nation, another people and say “How lovely are your dwelling places.”
If you think religion teaches us to spew hate, then maybe that isn’t God that you are worshipping at all!
-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky