Adapted from Meta Parshyot 5755 by R David WolfeBlank z”l and The Living Torah by R Aryeh Kaplan

“Ma Tovu, “ the familiar prayer, is introduced in this week‘s Torah portion. It’s often sung at the beginning of prayer services.

The story of how this prayer came forward reads like a fascinating fairy tale. There was an enlightened man named Bilaam, on the same level as Moshe, who lived in what is present-day Jordan. He was hired by Balak, a king of a small area of Jordan, who was afraid of or hostile to the nomadic populous Jewish refugees to put a curse on the itinerant Jews. 

Bilaam is clear from the start that he cannot do anything that the Holy One of Blessing does not permit. He is willing to go and check out the possibility of how he may be able to support Balak’s request.

While on their way to curse, Bilaam’s donkey paused on the road. He saw an angel holding a sword blocking the way. Rashi’s commentary says it was an angel of rahamim – compassion – trying to stop Bilaam from sinning – blocking the flow of the Divine Presence. Bilaam does not understand why the donkey is not following directions. He beat his donkey. The donkey speaks, complaining about being hit, reminding Bilaam of their long-term relationship and her ongoing obedience. Has this ever happened before? Soon Bilaam, too, was able to see the Havayah’s angel. The angel reminds him that he is to follow their direction. In the end, upon seeing the camp, Bilaam blesses Yisrael with the words of Ma Tovu. 

Balak ends with a story about public morality that produced a weighty outcome.

 מַה־טֹּ֥בוּ אֹֽהָלֶ֖יךָ יַֽעֲקֹ֑ב מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶ֖יךָ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל

Mah Tovu Ohalekha Yaakov, Mishkenotekha Yisrael.

How good your tents are, Yaacov, your Temple places, Yisrael

Bamidbar 24:5-9


Shem Mah – The Name “Mah” – Uniting with The Divine Heart

There are different ways of spelling YHVH in millui. 
Millui means fully. – it is a method of spelling out the letters used in gemmatria of Divine Names –  
For example in English  the letter “D” would be “Dee” in Millui,

There are a few ways to spell vav ו and heh ה
ו vav –  וו ואו ויו and
ה hei – הי הא הה  
Yud is always יוד  

Each of the different spellings creates different gematria from The Four Letter Name. Four different spellings, listed below, are commonly used in Kabbalah siddurim. Each one relates to one of the four worlds. 

Atzilut 72 – יוד הי ויו הי‘Spirit, Being’    עב
Breeyah 63 – יוד הי ואו הי‘Intellect & Creativity’ סג
Yetzirah 45 – יוד הא ואו הא’Heart’ מה
Ben 52 – יוד הה וו הה‘Doing’ בן

The Name Mah, then, points to the Divine Heart. It is where humans can meet and love The Holy One and one another.

Yaakov יַֽעֲקֹ֑ב

This Torah verse refers to the third patriarch as Yaakov and later as Yisrael. What is the distinction?

Lurianic Kabbalah connects the name “Yaakov” with “Mokhin d’Katnut” – small(er), daily, working consciousness. This smaller consciousness is modeled on the Etz Hayyim as the lower seven S’firot; Hesed, Gvurah, Tiferet Netzah, Hod, Yesod, and Shkhinah. These are the realms of Yetzirah and Assiyah, modeling emotional and physical aspects.

Yisrael יִשְׂרָאֵֽל

Similarly, Lurianic associates Yisrael with expanded consciousness – “Mokhin d’gadlut”. Yisrael is modeled by all ten S’firot lighting up. Keter, Hokhma,Binah Hesed, Gvurah, Tiferet Netzah, Hod, Yesod, and Shkhinah. This is a full consciousness.

Your Sanctuary מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶ֖יךָ

The root for “Sh’khinah” – Divine Presence – is within the Hebrew word Mishkan. The Sanctuary is where Sh’khinah dwells.

Mah Tovu Revisited

Mah Tovu Ohalekha Yaakov, Mishkenotekha Yisrael.

We can then revisit the translation.

Mah. The heart connectivity is rich and vital.

Tovu Ohalekha Yaakov – Good are your tents, and community when you are in Yaakov (working) consciousness,

Mishkenotekha Yisrael – your tents become sacred space, a home for Sh’khinah, when you are in Yisrael (expanded – attuning to Source) consciousness.

Balak’s Folly

By R David Wolfe Blanke
May be sung to the melody of Ma Tovu

Bilaam Ben B’or 

Was hired to curse the people 

we are for.

He put on his cursing gown

And this is what came down.

Bilaam looked up and saw

Yisrael camping by the law.

The spirit of God took over his will

And said, “speak, old Bil”

I am Bilam ben Beor, 

My eye is clear, and what’s more

I’m about to speak in metaphor.

I see the vision of The One,

I get to wear this fancy gown.

When I hear the holy curse

I usually fall down.  Here goes:

Mah Tovu Ohalekha Yaakov , Mishkenotekha Yisrael

How good are 

your tents, O Yaakov

Your Temple places Yisrael!

Like palm tree-groves 

That stretch on and on,

Generations continue down.

You will heal what is wrong

And become strong.

And though your God may hide

Take you on a stormy ride.

What you can always do

Is find God inside.

Then blessed be the one 

who blesses you, 

and cursed those

Who cursed you. “

At this Bilaam‘s employer 

screamed out, “Fool!’

King Balack had rented Bil

To fill his paranoid

propaganda swill.

But when he heard

The opposite word

He wanted to go to Brazil.

He slapped his hands

They almost broke.

 I summoned you

To curse these folks,

Instead, you’ve gone and

blessed them

And I don’t enjoy this joke.

Bilaam represents a part of us

Unhappily trying

To cause a fuss

Divine energy courses through

 and blesses

what might have been in cussed. 



This is the beginning of the cycle of seven corresponding to Yesod, signifying that the development stage of the S’firot as a whole has pretty much been completed for the year. It’s time to turn from the questions of what have we been concerned with up to now, such as “who am I this year?”, “What is my mission, my work?”, towards “How do I communicate better?”, “Who is my market?”, “What will ease our encounter? ” “How do we interconnect in the best possible way?”

The Torah portion,  Balak, involves a lot of self-revelation on Bilaam‘s part as it relates to his permission to channel and be in touch with the Divine Will. He submits to the Divine Will. The expansive openness of The Divine includes the ability to communicate and express through all creatures. Even when pushed by human kings, the Divine Will prevails.

Tmimah Audrey ickovits

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