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Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  ( has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.


What is a better temperament to cope with stress: to live in the moment without worrying about the future or to plan for the future? A study published some time ago and summarized in Harvard’s Men’s Health Watch suggests that both are required. They asked participants questions that gauge mindfulness or living in the moment. They then asked questions about whether they engage in proactive coping like planning for the future or tackling small problems before they become big problems. The study found that people who engage in both are less likely to experience stress than those who engage in just one of the two.

We find both of these themes in Parshat Balak. When Bilam praises Bnei Yisrael before blessing them, he says: “G-d brings them out of Egypt with the strength of His loftiness.”

א-ל מוציאם ממצרים כתועפת ראם לו

Bilam refers to the Exodus in the present tense. This, as opposed to Balak, who states at the beginning of the parsha “הנה עם יצא ממצרים Behold! A people has come out of Egypt” - in the past tense.

Rav. Yisachar Dov Rokeach (born 1948), the Belzer Rebbe, suggests that Balak was hoping that the Exodus was an event in the distant past. HaShem took us out of Egypt and that was it. Bilam provided a different perspective. When HaShem took us out of Egypt, He did so before we actually deserved it. So too, He constantly looks out for us and redeems us even before we deserve it. In other words, He looks towards the future.

Rav. Yehuda Rosanes (1657–1727), in his Parashat Derachim, Derush no. 4, has a different interpretation of this verse. Rashi comments that when the donkey says “why did you hit me three regalim [times],” it was a reference to the fact that Bnei Yisrael has a zechut (a merit) in that they will one day observe the three regalim (pilgrimages). Balak thought, if they are going to be judged for the mitzvot they will perform in the future, they should also be judged for the sins that they will perform in the future. To this, Bilam says, א-ל מוציאם ממצרים - God brings them out of Egypt. In Egypt, we had no merits to merit redemption. Yet HaShem took us out based on the fact that we will accept the Torah. He did not take into account the Sin of the Golden Calf. When it comes to judgment, HaShem only looks at the here and now. As a kindness, He also takes into account future merits.

Balancing the present and the future can be a way of emulating HaShem. HaShem knows the future and yet He places a strong emphasis on the present. At the same time, He looks towards the future, not only in terms of potential (Parashat Derachim) but in proactive coping — how we will manage the current situation if things don’t change. (Belzer Rebbe). We have our responsibilities in balancing these two ideals. There are many mitzvot that require us to be in the present, to be mindful of what we are doing. We also have an obligation to put in our efforts to proactively plan for the future. Balancing these two ideals not only help reduce stress, they help us live a wholesome life.