“Love covers up all iniquity.”
From a Curse to a Blessing
“How goodly are thy tents O Jacob, thy dwellings, O Israel.” "Ma tovu ohalecha Yaakov mishk'notecha Yisroel.” Read the Hebrew words and for anyone who has been to Jewish camp or Jewish anything, the melody just pops into your head. This verse is said upon entering a synagogue, it’s part of the daily Morning Prayer, and even if you don’t recite it, you may know it, because it’s one of the most famous verses in the Torah and it’s in the Torah portion, “Balak.”
And so one would think that these words of praise were uttered by God, or by Moses, or at least by someone “very holy.” And yet, these words emanated from the mouth of a notorious Jew hater, Bilaam, who was hired by Balak, (the newly-appointed King of Moab), to curse the Jewish people in the desert.
Three times, Bilaam tried to curse the Jewish people, and yet each time, he blessed them instead. Prior to the first two attempts, Bilaam and God had a “conversation” whereby God either instructed Bilaam what to say, or put the words directly into his mouth. And so despite his utmost intentions and hatred, Bilaam could only utter words of blessing and praise for the Jewish people.
Therefore, before the third and final attempt, Bilaam decided to take a different tact, since these “conversations” with God were not going his way. This time, Bilaam concentrated on the so-called faults and transgressions of the Jewish people, trying to discredit them so as to overcome God’s benevolence, and whip up a host of spiritual negativity against the Jewish people.
A Godly Lens
And so, after he was all fired up, Bilaam lifted his eyes to blast the Jewish people with his “evil eye.” But when he lifted his eyes and looked – truly looked – Bilaam noticed how the placement of the tents was designed for the utmost respect of privacy and dignity. He saw order. He saw righteousness. He saw goodness. And he was moved. The Torah states, “He changed his mind to be like God.” And in so doing - even if it was a very temporary shift - Bilaam saw a new reality, a Godly reality, and his curses were transformed into blessings.
So the question is, how could such words of praise come out of Bilaam’s mouth and of his own accord? It’s a not-funny joke that if a notorious anti-Semite says something nice about the Jews – then it must be true. It’s just human nature – we have a hard time believing certain ideas when they originate from sources very close to us. How credible is it when we sing our own praises? And so if a gentile praises the Jewish people, that’s good, but if a Jew-hater effusively praises us? Wow – what could be better?
Now let’s take a deeper look and find a lesson we can apply to our own lives. Besides our tendency to discount positivity from close sources, I think that most of us have a hard time being kind and benevolent to ourselves.
When is the last time you checked in on the inner dialogue in your head and your running thoughts and feelings – about you? I decided to pay attention to my inner voice the other day, and I was shocked at how intolerant and cruel I can be to myself.
Many of us have a hard time liking ourselves. We think it’s selfish and egotistical. But if I don’t like myself - why should you like me? If I don’t value or love myself - why should you?
We are also afraid that if we have self-compassion or like ourselves, we would never change, because we mistakenly think shame is the best impetus for growth. And so we can become our own Bilaams – in effect, cursing ourselves. I can assure you, however, with 100% certainty, that shame and blame are never the paths to sustained change or growth. So what is?
When Bilaam decided to “change his mind to be like God,” that’s when the transformation happened. That’s when the curses turned to blessings. I believe that’s the key. In our Morning Prayers, we acknowledge that the soul God placed in us is pure. Further, we are made in the image of God and we have Godly souls. When we don’t judge ourselves favorably, we are insulting our Creator!
Seeing is Believing
Ponder this. The more I love myself - my real self, my Godly self – and the more order, righteousness and good that I see when I look inside, the more I will naturally align my actions to be congruent with that vision. Then, I can make conscious choices that honor my core being, where growth and change naturally occurs. So may I suggest the following…
Step One: Listen In
Notice the toxic inner talk. But please don’t criticize the critic or you’ll stay in the same loop. Have compassion and understand that it’s a habituated form of thinking. Don’t get hooked – it’s not you. It’s a bad and unconscious habit. Increasing your awareness of this bad habit will help you break it.
Step Two: Switch It Out
Counteract the negativity with positivity – lots of it. In my article Shelach, which was about the use of language to create positive relationships, I wrote about the Losada Principle and the Gottman Relationship Ratios. In a nutshell, we weigh negativity more than positivity, and so to maintain loving and benevolent and thriving relationships, we must offset critical or negative comments with 3 to 5 positive ones, or suffer the consequences. I never realized that it applies to our own self-talk as well! And so every time you hear yourself making a negative comment to yourself, offset it with 3 to 5 positive and realistic comments that are constructive.
Step Three: Look Up
Give yourself permission to see yourself with Godly reality. As Marianne Williams said, “Maturity includes the recognition that no one is going to see anything in us that we don’t see in ourselves….Joy is what happens when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.”
And when we can live from this joyful place, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. Imagine a world where all curses were transformed into blessings, where we looked with inner and outer eyes that only saw order, righteousness and good – not for an inspired moment – but as the natural state of continuous connection to our Source. Let’s start now.
Internalize & Actualize:
1. Using the steps above, every day this week write down every negative thought you have about yourself. At the end of the week, look in the mirror and read them aloud. Pay attention to the language you use and the way you speak about yourself. If you wouldn’t say these statements to someone else, stop saying them to yourself.
2. Look through the statements you wrote down from the week. Take one that kept repeating or that was harshest. Now counteract it with 3 to 5 positive statements. Write them below. Ideally do this for negative statement you made during the week.
3. This one may be hardest as this may not be your reality. But the more you start to envision it, the sooner that shift will change. Write down how you want to see yourself and to do so, envision that you are speaking to yourself as a soul and not who you are in your body. If you could speak to your essence before you even came into this world, in your perfected state, what would you see and say?