“You can’t always get what you want,
You can’t always get what you want,
But if you try sometimes,
You just might find,
You get what you need.”
The Rolling Stones may have sung these words, but I imagine it’s not far from what the prophet Balaam felt back in biblical times. Remember the story? The Moabite king hired Balaam to curse the Jewish people as they marched across the desert and crossed the Moabites’ borders. The king said to Balaam, “curse this people for me…for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.”
Balaam tries to do as he was told, but he just couldn’t curse the people. Instead, he “lifted up his eyes, and he saw Israel abiding in their tents according to their tribes; and the spirit of God came upon him… and having his eyes open [he said] How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, and your dwelling places, O Israel.” We sing his blessing to this day; you know it as Ma Tovu.
This week I have been living and studying with colleagues at a large rambling house in rural New York. I knew what I wanted — to delve into studying Jewish texts in a way that I hadn’t since my ordination six months ago. I did not know what I needed — to delve into text study in a setting where it was peppered with walks in the woods, fireflies in the evening, fireworks at dusk, bottles of wine with longtime friends, and long discussions about our hopes and dreams for the future of our congregations and the American Jewish community.
I am fortunate that in my case, the Rolling Stones were wrong. I got both what I wanted and what I needed. And I am indeed grateful.