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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

While I Was Scrolling

Updated: Jun 23, 2021

We read Parshat Balak after reading of battles when it seems that the Israelites are gaining power in the area. The Parsha devotes a great deal of space to the story of King Balak and the prophet Bilaam and the king's persistent request for Bilaam to curse the Jewish people. Like an Escher painting, we have stories embedded into stories when we learn about a vision that is not seen, a donkey who becomes an emissary of God and talks.

This parsha is about perceptions. It is about what we see and what we don't see and perhaps what we miss when we do not see.

Even a prophet, who is known for seeing, misses the message of the angels.

This poem is about what we miss when we are looking down instead of around. Although it is not about angels and prophecy, it is about things we miss when our heads are down.

While I Was Scrolling

The sun was eclipsed by the moon

A pitcher pitched a no-hitter

A freight train passed by a red light.

Fifty two cars thundered by.

My shoulders shook


my head never lifted.

My eyes were on my phone

The sunset's smudged pinks and oranges

lit up the sky like a glowing torch.

A glorious sunset worthy of a blessing.

You never saw it

Your head was bowed

to the god of the internet

You were checking tomorrow's weather

A river could run backwards

and we would be texting

The sea could split

And we would be on Instagram

seeing people's vacation photos.

Elijah's chariot could soar to the heavens

trailing lightning

While we check our stock portfolios.

The Bat Kol, could call to us

and we would not hear it over the din

of our earphones.

Ayecka? Are you there?

You looks into your screen.

You are hiding in your phone.

God's angel could appear

with sword in hand

ready to smite.

The donkey could see this scene

but you could not.

Your eyes were clothed with

ten thousand pixels.

It is not just the extraordinary that is missed

the rainbows,

the snowstorms,


journeys on airplanes,

the music of the wind.

It is the ordinary that we squander

Looking around when on our commute,

sitting in a coffee shop and seeing those around us

making eye contact with the people we pass by

and stand with at grocery check out lines

a simple greeting

So many opportunities

and we miss them

with our heads down




And the most intimate moments,

An infant's gaze at his mother's eyes

as he nurses

and her eyes are turned toward a phone.

A talk with a child,

you are distracted

as your phone buzzes in your pocket,

that irresistible urge to view the message.

A visit with your old mother

As you sit, she snoozes and you search

for your beloved phone,

your charged companion,

it never disappoints you.

Within it, your own little universe

you search

for answers

for interest

for fun

for laughs

for what?

How high is the cost?

How many human interactions do we squander?

How many miracles do we miss?

How many missed opportunities

for the next big idea,

for a friendship,

for a connection,

to help someone,

to love someone.

It's never too late

to look up,

to look out,

to look from the inward

to the outward

to discover.

A Song of Ascents. I will lift up mine eyes unto the mountains: From whence shall my help come?

שִׁ֗יר לַֽמַּ֫עֲל֥וֹת אֶשָּׂ֣א עֵ֭ינַי אֶל־הֶהָרִ֑ים מֵ֝אַ֗יִן יָבֹ֥א עֶזְרִֽי׃

Numbers 22: 30-31 (Translation from Sefaria)

The ass said to Balaam, “Look, I am the ass that you have been riding all along until this day! Have I been in the habit of doing thus to you?” And he answered, “No.”

Then the LORD uncovered Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, his drawn sword in his hand; thereupon he bowed right down to the ground.

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