Curses can become blessings. This is a fundamental Jewish concept that is captured in the song Mah Tovu that we sing at the beginning of every Shabbat morning service. “Mah tovu ohalekha Ya’akov, mishkenotekha Yisrael/How good are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel” – these beautiful words that are the perfect blessing to begin a service, words that are from the Torah, were first uttered by Balaam, a prophet hired by a wicked king who despised Israel. The king ordered Balaam to curse the Jewish people. Amazingly, as Balaam opened his mouth to do just this, he spoke the words we call “Mah Tovu”. His mouth was hijacked by God and a curse became a blessing.
Today, curses can still become blessings. I can say this not because I believe that God has the ability to hijack a modern day bad guy’s mouth and make him start speaking words of blessing. I can say this because we have concrete evidence that bad things can, with the godly insight of wise people, do really good things. The radical, new treatment regimen for skin cancer that was published in the The Journal of Clinical Oncology on Tuesday is a perfect case in point. What’s the treatment regimen? Herpes. Yes, you read that correctly. Herpes.
Dr. Kevin Harrington, a Professor of Biological Cancer Therapies at The Institute of Cancer Research, headed the team that discovered that by modifying the Herpes virus, it can be used to attack and kill inoperable melanoma in patients. “We may normally think of viruses as the enemies of mankind, but it’s their very ability to specifically infect and kill human cells that can make them such promising cancer treatments,” said Professor Paul Workman, the CEO of The Institute of Cancer Research. And, thus, we have scientific proof of what Judaism has embraced for centuries: curses can become blessings.
When the words of Mah Tovu came forth from Balaam’s mouth centuries ago, imagine the shock of the evil king who was expecting to hear a powerful curse. While none of us want to be like the king, shocked because we received a blessing when we wanted a curse, we would all love to be shocked by being blessed when we were expecting the worst. May God continue to inspire the scientists, scholars and anyone else who is courageous enough to discover new and incredible ways to shock us by turning life’s curses, viruses and challenges into blessings.