Before You Sing Mah Tovu Again, Please Read This! // Parashat Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9)

This is a wonderful post on a famous and much misunderstood Torah portion.

Finding Ourselves In Biblical Narratives

Torah from Around the World

Published by The World Union for Progressive Judaism

July 2, 2015 / 15 Tammuz 5775

By: Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs, Former World Union president, author of What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives, and Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel, West Hartford, CT, USA. He can be reached at, and his website.

So many times, I have heard rabbis or Cantors announce, “We begin our service with Mah Tovu!” And then the rabbi, Cantor, choir and congregation or some combination of those resources begin to sing: “How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!“ (Numbers 24:5)

As thinking Jews, and especially as Progressive Jews, we should not be content to simply intone our prayers mindlessly.

We will enrich ourselves and our worship if we make the effort to understand what they mean, what their literary-historical context is…

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi based in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, mom, poodle groomer, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at as the Coffee Shop Rabbi.

2 thoughts on “Before You Sing Mah Tovu Again, Please Read This! // Parashat Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9)”

  1. What a wonderful commentary by Rabbi Fuchs! I even sent it on to several family members for them to enjoy as well. Mah Tovu has always been the way I have enjoyed opening my mind and heart to prayers, and now after reading this it has given me more to be joyful about when I am in prayer.


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