The Donkey and the Angle
About Lisë Stern
After decades of viewing Jewish text study as an avocation, I formalized the relationship last year, plunging into the world of full-time rabbinic studies at Hebrew College. Days spent editing and writing food-related articles and books (including Culinary Tea and How to Keep Kosher) are now be focused on the depths of Tanach and Talmud. I’m on the cusp of what Pirkei Avot calls זִּקְנָה, old age (I’ll be 60 next month), yet I am continually discovering new interests and abilities. One of these is spiritual song writing.In early 2020 I began creating songs inspired by liturgy, text, Daf Yomi, and God. I am not a musician, but I love to sing. After attending Hadar’s Rising Song Institute, I began creating songs almost daily, often while riding my bike. Many are shorter, like a take on Modeh Ani, or a song for each line of Ashrei, with English interpretations accompanying the Hebrew. Some are longer, like a song interpretation of the first chapter of Mishna Brachot, song as commentary.My hope, as a rabbi, is to work with people in the narrow places, in difficult times, to use my learning to help ease them through.
About The Donkey and the Angle
Parshat Balak is an ultimate story about mindfulness. Bilaam is a prophet with a direct connection to God. This is why the king Balak hires him to curse the Israelites as they are passing by – Bilaam has that power. But God does not want this human to curse the wandering people that God is leading through the desert, away from slavery.Shmita is about mindfulness. About taking a breath and pausing. Taking time to notice, really notice the surrounding world. Bilaam was caught up in his assignment, in the job he was hired to do: curse a group of people, for pay. A mercenary prophet. Even though God had told him what he needed to do (speak the words God would send him), he didn’t listen. So God sent him signs to pause, to rethink. To notice.I was inspired to write this song-poem from the point of view of the donkey. Donkeys in the Tanach are carriers of holy missions, usually taking humans one way toward their destination. Avraham rides a donkey into the desert before setting off on foot with Isaac for the Akedah. The brothers ride donkeys when they visit Joseph in Egypt. But Bilaam is so caught up in his urgency to do a job of evil, that he doesn’t notice the miracle around him – or appreciate his own direct line to God. The donkey here leads him on a path of noticing. Like shmita, meaning release, Bilaam has to release his preconceived intentions and pay attention to the world around him to be able to receive words of blessing, rather than cursing. I hope this song can inspire anyone who hears it to pause, to notice, to do good in the world.