Speaking From Our Core, Surprising Ourselves With Kindness

There’s a moment so many of us experience – here at camp, at home with our families, at work, at school, or even out in the market – of surprising ourselves with what comes out of our mouths. In our grand story of Israel this week, there is more than a little surprise when Balaam blurts out a blessing for Israel despite being instructed to speak words of curse. In Balaam’s own retort, “must I not speak what the Lord put in my mouth?” (Num. 23:12). Though our intentions are to say what we plan to convey, the words that come out may come from a more raw place in our core.

In a story that doesn’t involve the Torah’s typical characters, we are given a general picture of human nature. Have you ever found yourself opening your mouth to speak, only to blurt out the very thing you didn’t intend to say? Unlike Balaam, it is not often the positive statement we utter, but rather the one that causes harm to our friend. In life’s difficult moments we surprise ourselves with our impatience, our curtness, even our unintended cruelty. We surprise ourselves with meanness. It’s not from a malicious place that this comes, but from the root of our being; not the logical directions coming from above, but the visceral reality coming from within.

So what was Balaam’s gift? What was it that allowed him to speak from a place of blessing even though he had been ordered to give a curse? It was all in his initial recognition: he may only speak what comes from the Lord, the true experience at the root of our being.

This is our reality – we can all only express the truth of our experience, even if we instruct ourselves otherwise. “Must I not speak what the Lord put in my mouth?” It is not a question of permission, but a question of ability. Though we try to cover it up, we only express the essence of our core, whether we realize it or not. We do one another a great service when we acknowledge that reality. In doing so – in asking ourselves “what is really going on within me” – we may even end up surprising ourselves with kindness.

Categories: Balak, Divrei Torah