Yom Sheini, 18 Av 5779
Monday, 19 August 2019
Parashat Balak 2013

Parashat Balak
Rabbi Anna Gerrard

21st June 2013

"Life gives you nothing but angels and blessings."· By this philosophy, a great and inspirational Israeli friend of mine lives his life.· But how can it be true when life is so unfair?· I did not take it very seriously until a strange thing happened to me on a street corner one day.

I lived near a busy hospital in Birmingham and the end of my road was always a multi-cultural bustle of patients and staff.· One day as I turned the corner, I walked straight into a heated discussion between a large Jamaican man and a nervous looking individual who was gesticulating wildly and shouting in an unfamiliar language.

"Can you help?", the Jamaican man asked, "I've no idea what he's on about!"· I was bewildered and unconvinced of my advantage in this situation but I tried my luck.· "Parlez-vous· Francais?"· No response.

With a quick apology, I started to walk away but then turned for one last attempt: "Spreekt u Nederlands?"· A pause.· "Ja, ja, ik spreek Nederlands!"· It took me a moment to absorb the improbability.· I had pigeon Dutch from a gap year in Amsterdam but where did this foreigner's grasp of the obscure language come from?

It transpired that he was an asylum seeker from Kurdistan who had tried and failed to settle in Holland for six months and then migrated onwards to England a few weeks earlier.· He was distraught at having come to the wrong hospital for a job interview to be a porter and was trying to establish how to get from here to the correct location by public transport.

The Jamaican man new the bus routes, I translated and the frantic man ran off to catch his bus and, I would like to think, get his job.· And that would have been that.· I would have gone home thinking that the world was a peculiar place and reveling in the coincidence of the whole scenario.

But at that moment, this huge stranger grabbed me by both shoulders, looked me in the eye and said: "You were sent here by an angel."· He let go and I walked home.

This stranger's words changed the course of my life and I still see him as the least expected of all the teachers that helped me to become a Rabbi.· Life is unfair but often, very often, the right person or the right opportunity appears in the least expected· of places, just for us.

It happens to Balak in this week's Parashah when he discovers that his disobedient donkey is actually a messenger of God, trying to prevent him from carrying out his assignment to curse the Israelites.

What is more difficult is having the faith, the presence of mind and the openness of heart to notice the angels and the blessings when we need them.· That is a gift for which I will be forever grateful to that large Jamaican man on the street corner.