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By Rabbi Boaz D. Heilman

Shalom chaverim (friends),

This week’s Torah portion, Balak (Numbers 22:2–25:9), contains the famous line, “How goodly are your tents O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel.” Spoken by the pagan seer Balaam, these beautiful words have entered the Jewish liturgy as the opening of every morning service. Though Balaam was hired by King Balak of Moab to curse Israel, from his perch on top a mountain overlooking the ancient Israelite camp, Balaam is overwhelmed by the vision of Israel he sees from the heights and his evil purpose is turned instead into a blessing.

I was reminded of this line a few days ago as the El Al jet I was in was making its final approach to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. The coastline of Israel emerged from the mist and grew ever closer. From the heights, the roads and buildings of Tel Aviv, the green fields and the forests, the rocky mountains around Jerusalem all formed a breathtaking pattern. It’s a sight that takes one’s breath away no matter how many times you see it. What made this flight different from all others, however, was that it was El Al’s maiden non-stop flight between Boston and Tel Aviv. Festivities at Logan Airport continued in the boarding area, replete with flags, ribbon-cutting ceremonies, speeches and champagne. Teddy bears dressed in T-shirts with “El Al: Boston to Tel Aviv” logos awaited every passenger. More champagne, cupcakes and mint tins with the same El Al logo were offered after the meal. The plane was filled with a diverse multitude of passengers comprised of exuberant youth groups, rabbis coming to Israel for study or R&R, tourists, business people, older people visiting Israel for the first or umpteenth time, and children speaking a mixture of English and Hebrew. It was a complex mixture of people united by one thing–a love for the people and the land of Israel. When the plane touched down in Tel Aviv, applause filled the cabin, and while some people began to sing, others offered a silent prayer of gratitude. Tears were in the eyes of many.

Israel has a way of doing that to people. Emotions spring up from somewhere deep inside your heart and cause your spirit to soar. Poor Balaam never stood a chance.

Mah tovu o-halecha Ya’akov, mish’k’notecha Yisrael, “How goodly are your tents O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel.” How fortunate and blessed we are to have Israel to go to today, to take its presence for granted, to assume that it will always be there for us, a source of hope, strength and pride.

Especially today, almost the 4th of July, I can’t help but think of the close connection between America and Israel. It’s a connection I feel in a most personal way. I sometimes feel torn between the two homes I have, while the truth is that within me, the two merge into one. Prime Minister Binyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu, in a congratulations message sent to the US for the 4th of July, said that Israel has no greater friend than the US, and the US has no greater friend than Israel. The truth of this message is apparent in every possible way, from the personal to the national; from the strong economic ties to the cultural; and certainly in the unwavering military and security partnership that exists between the two countries.

A prayer that should be said by all on this Shabbat day is that God continue to bless both America and Israel. Together we all pray that, with God’s help, we will continue making the world a better place for all its inhabitants.

May God grant strength to God’s people, may God bless us all with peace.

Happy Fourth of July and Shabbat shalom to all,

Rabbi Heilman

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