In this week's Torah portion, Balak, is named for the Moabite King who engaged the Midianite priest Balaam to curse the Israelites. Instead, Balaam at the insistence of God blesses the Israelites.
Too often we expect curses and instead receive blessings. We don’t always recognize these blessings. I suppose it's human nature to focus on the negative. We see this in newscasts, our print media, and especially online. There are also times when we expect blessings and actually receive them.
Last weekend I was expecting both blessings and curses and ended up finding just blessings. I went back to Cleveland for my NFTY regional youth group reunion. A few weeks before, I also received a notice that some of my high school classmates would be gathering for dinner and drinks that Sunday afternoon. To top it all off, on Friday I had lunch with one of the families that helped raise me and they told me about a 90th birthday party for someone from the congregation where I grew up. So, I ended up having three reunions. One for NFTY, one for my high school, and one for my congregation.
I expected blessings at my NFTY reunion and at the birthday party. Those blessings far exceeded my expectations. I was able to both reconnect with close friends and enhance friendships that had previously just been acquaintances. Together we shared old memories and created new ones. We celebrated those with us as well as those who were not. We mourned those who died too young. We laughed about our silly misunderstandings. We understood, through more mature eyes, people we always saw as different.
At my high school get-together, I expected nothing but curses. I left high school 44 years ago with an oath to never return. The few close friends I kept in touch with over the years and I swore we would never attend a class reunion. We saw ourselves as the outsiders. We saw ourselves as those who were ignored by those who were “cool”. As I looked at the list of my classmates who would be at the event, there were names I did not recognize. But there are also names that I did recognize. They were people who never spoke to me when we were in class together or if they did it was a taunt or at best a passing hello.
When I arrived at the event I was met by four of my male classmates who when I introduced myself either didn't remember me or their grunts showed they did. But once I entered the room I was greeted with some enthusiastic hello's and even a hug or two. People who I remember never acknowledging my existence hugged me. Either my memory or theirs was flawed. I walked in expecting the curses my memory held from my high school years, but instead, received the blessing of welcome and warmth. While I cannot make it back for my 45th reunion I am considering trying to make it to the 50th. The blessing of warmth and welcome challenged my painful memories. But even if my memories are accurate and theirs are not, I and/or they have a new perspective on each other and ourselves.
Friendships renewed and expanded, understanding brought by age. What greater blessings could there be?