Parshat Balak: Lip Service

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Lip Service
10 Jul 2008
Arts & Media

At the lip of a cliff,

The cliff of a lip,

Letters tumble one

Over another, head-

Long, trampoline

Trampling, stumbling

Stampeding from

Inside out, over, in:

Inside the self, out

Of the mouth, over

The lip, into the ear


Some fall soft, some

Hard, some fall short

Some long, some on

Deaf ears, some don’t

Fall at all but stand up-

Right at attention, at



Such a flighty thing, but

So concrete, weightless

But so heavy, formless

But with so many shapes –

Some crooked, some square;

Some straight, some round



There are blessings, letters

Coming together in love.

And there are curses, inks

Coming apart in hate. The

Cursed try to curse the pure –

It is part of their curse.

But the pure cannot be cursed –

It is part of their blessing.


Cursed men, men that worship

Everything false, men that cannot

Stand truth, for then they must be

True (to) themselves; men whose

Plastic existences begin melting

At the mere glimmer of holy warmth,

Can do nothing but curse, criticize,

Spite those that do not pantomime

In the fixed (but broken) game of



The cursed must threaten that which

They feel threatened by.


The cursed must pay lip disservice

To the sacred mouths that speak Truth –

Lest they be shushed forever.


You shall not curse the nation

For it is blessed


Ah, but do they not know that

The blessed cannot be cursed?

No housefuls of gold and silver

Can change what is; no wizardry

Or lip movement can profane the



G-d opened the mouth

Of the she-donkey

And it said…


Some lips are expected to move in speech;

Others only in chew.


O, but when they speak, we have no choice

But to listen:


Of all beings, it is but the human who has

The ability to speak truth – or falseness.

The human alone has the power to speak

Wisdom – or stupidity; the choice to use

The lip for good – or, heaven forbid, curl it

Up to no good.


All other creatures haven’t the free will

To say what they like (or dislike); only

What they know. The sun sings constant

Praise, lest it cease to shine. The tree remains

Rooted to the ground, lest it shrivel up and rot.


Is not a word in nature’s lexicon or vocabulary –

Nature just doesn’t have that luxury


When the routine changes, when the donkey

Speaks, when the sea splits, when the sun stops,

We call it a miracle. Miracle: when creation

Reflects divine eternity (it happens all the time –

Is it less a miracle for the donkey to walk than

For the donkey to talk? It seems as if frequency

Has spoiled us.)


Sometimes we need the ride to lead the rider:


When things seem cursed,

The world more broken than complete,

We need the physical to show us the spiritual:

Sometimes, when man acts like a beast,

It takes a donkey to say it the way it is

(Donkeys never lie)


Shock value:

Hearing the truth, even

When the messenger seems

Stranger than the message


Lip service:

The power to take a curse

And make it a blessing

Mendel Jacobson is a writer, poet and journalist living in Brooklyn. His weekly poetry can be seen at

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.