Parashat Balak: Rise up like a lioness!

 In this week's parasha, Balak, the non-Jewish prophet who was hired to curse b'nai yisrael by the non-Jewish king, Bilaam, was not able to curse us.  Instead, Gd told him to bless the Jewish people.  When explaining to Bilaam why he was not able to curse b'nai y'srael, Balak praises us in many ways.  One of them is found in this verse:

כד  הֶן-עָם כְּלָבִיא יָקוּם, וְכַאֲרִי יִתְנַשָּׂא; לֹא יִשְׁכַּב עַד-יֹאכַל טֶרֶף, וְדַם-חֲלָלִים יִשְׁתֶּה.
Numbers 23:24: "Behold, a people! As a lioness it rises up and as a lion it lifts itself; it does not lie down until it has devoured the prey and drunk the blood of the slain."

Midrash Rabbah teaches on this verse:
There is no nation in the world to compare with them. One moment they are asleep, far from the Torah and the precepts. The next moment they rise from their sleep like lions, quickly proceed to read the shema,and, proclaiming the sovereignty of the Holy One of Blessing, they become like lions. Then they set out on their worldly affairs, to carry on business. If any of them stumbles over any sin, or if destroying demons come to touch any of them, s/he proclaims the sovereignty of the Holy One of Blessing.
In this Midrash, we learn how we are instructed to awaken in the morning and continue throughout our day.  It we awaken with enthusiasm and with the recitation of the Shema,  it can set our day on target and also set us back on target when we go astray.

Questions we can all ask ourselves when considering how to "rise like a lioness," each day:  
  • How do you begin your day of “worldly affairs”?
  • How do you cope when you stumble over “sin”? 
  • How do you fight destroying demons?
  • How do you “lift yourself up” when you have fallen?
  • Is it possible to use the suggestion/ tool in this Midrash, to “proclaim the sovereignty of Gd” as a tool when you hit an obstacle?
  • What would it mean to use this tool for your business affairs?  For community leadership and community service?
The Midrash continues:
When s/he recites the words, “The Lord is one”) (ה´אחד) Deut. VI, 4), the destroying demons are consumed before him/her, and they whisper after him/her, “Blessed be His name whose glorious kingdom is for ever and ever,”  (ברוך שם כבוד מךכותו לעולם ועד)and flee. By means of the reading of the shema the Israelite is supported by the watchers of the day and entrusted to the watchers of the night. When s/he is about to go to sleep s/he entrusts his/her spirit to the Holy One of Blessing; as it says, “Into Your hand I commit my spirit” (Ps. XXXI, 6). On awakening s/he again proclaims the sovereignty of the Holy One of Blessing, and the watchers of the night hand him/her over to the watchers of the day; as it says, “My soul is entrusted to the Lord; from the time of the watchers of the morning to that of the watchers of the following morning” (ib. CXXX, 6).  Consequently Bilaam says: What nation is there like this one?
This Midrash is very comforting.  It teaches that through the power of Shema we can dispel demons from before us, and that when we sleep we are watched by one set of angels and when we are awake by another set of angels.  When we remember this, we are more able to rise like a lioness to face our day.