In this week’s Torah portion, Bilaam’s great praise for the Jewish people is found
in the famous words that begin our daily prayers and that every Bar/Bat Mitzvah child knows by heart: Ma tovu ohalecha Yaakov – “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob” (Numbers 24:5).
The Sages explain that Bilaam noticed how the tents of the Jews in the desert were carefully aligned so that no one could see into anyone else’s home. Bilaam wanted to curse the Jewish people, but because of their modesty, he was unable to do so.
There is an underlying message here. The strength of the Jewish people lies in their homes. Homes, not individuals, are the basic building blocks of a nation. Much more so than individuals create homes, homes nurture individuals. Stable homes, with strong values and focused education, are the most fundamental element in creating a strong nation.
Schools are an important part of an education system, but parents (and governments) who think that schools can be relied on to create individuals of strong moral character will realize their mistake after the horse has already bolted. Even taking into account the element of free will, parents are majorly responsible for who their children turn out to be. They cannot merely blame the school, society or the child’s friends. The most fundamental influence is the home.
Yet, as easy as it is to say, it’s equally difficult to do. And bringing up children requires an inordinate amount of Divine assistance. But recognition of the reality is a first step in making it happen. Let’s rely on no one but ourselves to create the environment in which our children can prosper and develop into the decent and contributing members of society we would like them to be. For as we know from Bilaam, because of our homes, he could not curse us.