Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Transforming Curses into Blessings

Bat Ayin sunset through one of the Magen David's on the student dorm windows
When I was a little girl growing up in Denmark I remember the song “Mah Tovu, Ohalecha Ya’acov….”[1] – “How goodly are your tents Ya’acov, your dwelling places Israel.” My sisters and I used to sing this in rounds from the back of the car when we were driving with our parents to our summerhouse. I used to love the tune even when I had no idea what the words meant. 

Isn’t it amazing how these beautiful words came out of the mouth of the wicked sorcerer Bilam who desired to obliterate Israel with curses? Hashem transformed his evil eye to goodness and turned Bilam’s curse into a six worded blessing.[2] 

The ancient Magen David – “Shield of David” symbol which I use often in spiritual healing likewise has six points. We have the Divine power to train our eye to see only goodness in others and in ourselves, and thereby transform curses into blessings. The Magen David not only protects us both from receiving negative energy, but moreover, visualizing the Magen David can help prevent us from sending out negative energy as well. 

Therefore, I have designed a Magen David meditation to help us sending out positive light to ourselves and others. It is important to practice seeing our own light rather than being too perfectionistic, beating ourselves up, for not being this-enough, nor that-enough, for not living up to our unrealistically high expectations of ourselves. What about beginning to bless ourselves instead of sending ourselves negative energy? Instead of “I should not have responded so judgmentally to that person and I can’t believe I did not learn from my last experience...” Whatever we did, was it really so bad that we deserve to feel terrible for the rest of the day, and re-play the conversation over and over again in our head? What about transforming that self-inflicted curse into a simple blessing? Let us send ourselves transformative lights of blessings! For example we can bless ourselves something like: “May I be empowered to cultivate more mindful speech! May I be blessed with the patience to really hear and accept others!” 

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land,
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Read Rebbetzin’s commentary to Haftorat Balak - Walking Modestly With Hashem

Parasha Meditation Parashat Balak
Bamidbar 22:1-25:9
Printable Version 
Unified Vision – The Source of our Blessing
We arrive at Parashat Balak during the zenith of the summer month Tamuz – the season of the eyes, and rectification of vision.[3] It is the time to guard our eyes and see only the good in the world and in other people. The ability to guard and focus one’s eyesight correctly is the rectified “sense” of sight.[4]

The gematria (numerical value) of the Hebrew word for eye עין/Ayin is 130, its small gematria being 13. Thirteen is a very interesting number; it bonds multiplicity into oneness. This is why both the Hebrew word אהבה/ahava – love and אחד/echad – one share the numerical value of thirteen. When we unite in love, the multiplicity of our individualities merges to become one. Our twelve tribes are connected through their one father Ya’acov/Yisrael. While Jews look to make many into one, non-Jews look to make the one (G-d) into many, (trinity). Therefore, they cannot relate to the holiness of number thirteen, which is considered an “unlucky number,” in non-Jewish circles.

In this week’s parasha there is a contrast between the gentile and Jewish relationship with our eyes. Bilam “lifted his eyes and saw Israel dwelling according to their tribes”[5] Rashi explains that he wished to cast an evil eye upon them.[6] Casting an evil eye on people is essentially cutting off their spiritual channel to the oneness of G-d – the source of their blessings. It is interesting to notice that the root word עין/eye which is the focal point of the parasha occurs exactly thirteen times in Parashat Balak. The attempt to apply witchcraft and curse on the Jewish people by separating their individual diversity from Hashem’s oneness backfired and turned into the thirteen attributes of mercy unifying Hashem – the source of our blessing.

Cursing is Separating from the Source of Blessing
There are several words for curse in Hebrew, the most common is klalah from the root קלל/kalal which is etymologically related to the word קל meaning light – taking someone lightly and disrespecting him. The word for curse used in Parashat Balak is ארה /ara. I’m trying to figure out why that word means curse. It has the same letters as the Hebrew word for light אור/ohr, except it is missing the vav. This letter also means “and” and has the ability to connect. Truth is connecting all the strings and seeing the whole picture. This is why the vav is called the letter of truth in Kabbalah.[7] The word for light in Hebrew is always written with the vav, even though vav’s are often missing in the Hebrew language when the vav is used as an “oh” sound. Perhaps the deeper meaning of the kind of curse Bilam was trying to cast on Israel – the ארה/ara without the vav – was to disconnect them from each other and Hashem – the source of their blessing. I found substantiation for this concept in the Netivat Shalom who writes that Bilam’s purpose was to separate Israel from cleaving to Hashem in order that the curses would have power over them. Therefore, he tempted them with the daughters of Moav and with the idol-worship of Ba’al Peor. The source of the devekut (cleaving) of a Jews to Hashem is in the mind and in the heart. Bilam therefore, attempted to separate Israel from Hashem through the mind by means of tempting them to idol-worship, and through the heart by means of the temptation of the women.

Torah and Tefilah – Israel’s Eternal Protection from Negative Energy
Torah and Tefilah (prayer) protect us from contaminating our minds and heart. Through Torah learning our minds, opinions and beliefs become purified, and by pouring our hearts out in tefilah before Hashem we purify our hearts. The houses of prayer and Torah study purify the hearts and minds of a Jew and enable him to cleave to Hashem. Therefore, in order to contaminate our hearts and minds Bilam desired that we would have neither synagogues nor Torah study halls.[8] Yet Hashem reversed his curse to blessing: “How goodly are your tents…”[9] – these are your prayer houses “….your dwelling places Israel”[10] – these are your study halls. Through Bilam’s reversed curse Israel became blessed that we will always have the ability to cleave to Hashem through our perpetual houses of prayer and Torah study. Through the power of Israel’s eternal Torah and tefilah we cleave to Hashem and thereby receive everlasting protection from negative energy and the evil eye.

The Eye as the Source of Curse or Blessing
According to the western scientific view, the eye is merely a passive sensor of light. However, in Chassidut, the eye has power to influence and change reality.[11] It has the ability to affect the world for good or evil. Recently quantum physics have proven this concept by demonstrating that an object being observed acts differently than when it hasn’t been viewed. The eye has the power to change reality for good or bad. The evil eye is the source of all curses and can cause people to lose money, get sick, or become depressed etc. Rav once went down to the graveyard, he did what he did and he said, “Ninety nine died as a result of Ayin Hara, and one died through natural causes.”[12]

However, the power of the positive is always greater. Looking at someone with love and care has tremendous healing powers, and brings about happiness, prosperity and blessing. You can get a feel for how people’s eyes send out messages, by gazing at the eyes of a few different friends and opponents! You can also work on maximizing your own power of blessing through practicing looking with eyes of love.

This meditation is designed to strengthen your power of blessing by guiding you to practice giving out “ayin tova” – the good eye which bestows healing goodness and blessings towards others and yourself. The first four steps are practice steps to help strengthen the power of your eyes. The two first steps can be practiced separately at any given time and place, not necessarily at the same time as step 3 and 4.

1. Practice focusing your gaze on one point, and see how long you can hold the gaze. (You could practice this whenever you are waiting for something).

2. Shift your gaze from the one point to the whole of which the point is part, then back to the one point. Repeat several times

3. Draw a blue Magen David on a white surface, and look at it for at least two minutes.

4. Close your eyes and visualize the Magen David, try to hold the vision for as long as possible.

5. Look at a person in your life that you love very much. It could be a spouse or child, sibling, parent or close friend. Tune into the person’s face and look for the glow of Hashem’s light in that face. Imagine expanding this glow of light.

6. If you can’t find the person’s glow or he or she is not well, practice sending rays of light to that person through your eyes. Look for where the person is in need of light and focus your light to that particular place.

7. When meditating alone visualize people in your life that you love and imagine expanding their glow of light or sending them light to the places they need. Visualize how the person you love is gradually becoming more filled with light, life, health and happiness! Repeat this exercise as much as possible, until it becomes natural for you to send light whenever you are communicating with others.

Taking the Leap of Choice from Curse to Blessing

Curses whether in the form of berating oneself or hoping that something bad happens to someone we do not like, are ultimately destructive, and limit our spiritual and emotional development. However, blessings allow for mindfulness, gentle self-evaluation, forgiveness, and moving on. How would our moment-to-moment life experience change if curses were not an option and if God only allowed us to bless ourselves and bless others, to offer ourselves and other people mindful hope for mindful change?

[1] Bamidbar 24:5.
[2]“ מַה טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ יַעֲקֹב מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל”
[3] Sefer Yetzira, Chapter 5:4.
[4] Rav Ginsburgh, Gal Einai, .
[5] Bamidbar 24:2.
[6] Rashi, Ibid.
[7] Zohar, part 2, 169a.
[8] Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 105b.
[9] First part of Bilam’s curse turned into blessing Bamidbar 24:5.
[10] Second part of Bilam’s curse turned into blessing (bid.)
[11] See for example Kedushat HaLevi, Parashat Balak.
[12] Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metzia 107b.


  1. Excellent! I would like to point out one thing, however. Science views the eye as much more than a passive conductor of light. Our eyes process the photons of light that are received from the environment, and pass them on to higher areas of the brain. What we see and what we think we see are not always the same (e.g., optical illusions). So there is much more complexity than... meets the eye :).