Or Lagoyim: A Light Unto the Nations

June 25, 2021

There are times in one’s life where the struggle, the pain,  and the challenge seem too difficult to bear. We ask ourselves, why? How did we get here? What did we do to deserve this heartache? However, it is exactly at these moments that if we were able to step back, to reflect on the moment, to see what is often not immediately visible, we might in fact see a light shining through the darkness providing us a path through the pain.

The lesson to be learned from this week’s parshah, Balak, is one of the most challenging and seemingly unnatural concepts to concede when a curse becomes a blessing… or more simply that good can come from bad. This week we read the story of Balak, the Moabite King, who contracts Balaam a non-Hebrew prophet-for-hire to curse the Hebrews. However, unexpectedly when the moment arrives, Balaam blesses the Hebrew nation with the words from Numbers 24:5, mah tovu, (“How goodly are your tents, oh Jacob; your dwelling places, Israel!”)

Now please, I want to make it unquestionably clear, I am not implying that anyone’s pain and suffering in times of anguish and loss should be dismissed because they will somehow bring about a positive outcome. Rather, just the opposite. These moments of struggle are real and legitimate. After all, we are human and possess emotions and feelings that often run deep and for some never go away. However, if (and this is a big “if”) we can find that flicker of light in the midst of the darkness, if we can follow that distant spec and find our way out of the darkness, well, the opportunity on the other side is one that will assuredly shine with great brightness. 

As Jews,  we have found ourselves in the deepest darkest places of humanity too many times throughout history. And yet, we are told to be an or lagoyim (“a light unto the nations”). It is because of our commitment to community and our ability to maintain a connection to that light emanating from our collective spirits, that every time we have come through those dark spots as individuals, we have maintained a brightness, a positivity, and a sense of optimism that has not failed us from our communal influence.

Many of our traditions are dependent upon a community gathering. We have commandments and customs that cannot be fulfilled without individuals coming together to provide the necessary community. It is unacceptable for an individual to languish in pain alone. It is not our way. We must bring our light and help them find their path through their suffering. This is why we believe so deeply in social action. This is why we are taught to care for every vulnerable population. This is why we are commanded to see past people’s color of skin, socio-economic status, ideology, and all other differentiators. This is why we are taught that everyone descended from Adam and Eve and that we were all made in the image of Gd.

Community is not something that happens by accident. Community is built. Community is actively invested in. Community is something that is not always appreciated or thought about until the day it is needed.

This week, I challenge us all to think about our local community as well as our national and global community. And one community that is in pain and suffering this week, and who could use our thoughts, our prayers, and our support is the community of Miami-Dade County who have not only suffered multiple deaths in the Surfside high-rise building collapse but where, as of this morning, there are over 100 people still unaccounted for.

The Miami Jewish Federation has established a fund to assist the survivors. As always, the Federation will take no administrative costs from the fund, so 100% will go to meet these tragic needs. You may access the fund here. Unfortunately, this is yet another example of the indispensable role that our Jewish Federations play in supporting and protecting our communities across North America.

We are so grateful and appreciative of your role and participation in our community because, without you, our Jewish Federation could not be…


HERE for you.

HERE for our community.

HERE for our Future.

Shabbat shalom,