Monday, July 2, 2007

Parshas Balak. At Least Try to Not Be Like Bilaam.

Just so that a week shouldn't go by without a dvar Torah, I will quote something my dear wife said in her Parsha Drasha, and I think it is a very nice mussar haskeil.

We are told that we should try to emulate the Ovos Ho’Olom, like Avrohom, Yitzchok, Yakkov, Moshe, Dovid. But -- they were so great! They were beyond our most wishful dreams of gadlus. It is futile for us to even attempt to comprehend who they were, to say nothing of trying to imitate their middos and acts.

But we also know that Bilam and Moshe were opposites. As it says in Pirkei Avos 5:23– differences between talmidim of Bilaam and talmidim of Avrohom Ovinu, which, of course, are also the differences between Moshe, a talmid of Avrohom Avinu,and Bilaam.

Unfortunately, while we cannot even try to understand Moshe Rabbeinu, we are able to understand Bilaam. Isn't that sad? We cannot even comprehend the greatness of Moshe, it is inconceivably beyond our life experience. But we look at Bilaam's rotten behavior and, because of our own base daily lives and the contemptible people we are exposed to, we recognize and understand his motivations and actions.

So if we wouldn't even know where to begin in an attempt to imitate Moshe, at least we can try to not be like Bilaam, and by doing so, we can come closer to being like Moshe Rabbeinu. You may not be able to aspire to be like Moshe Rabbeinu, but at least try to be as little as possible like Bilaam. (Negating the Negative may be a pathetic way of achieving the positive, but it might be the best we can do.)


  1. Interesting take. My son (who is 13) asked the opposite question: how can one understand Bilam? How does it make sense that someone could be a navi 'yodei'a da'as elyon' yet at the same time be a complete rasha?

  2. I see that you are justifiably proud of your son. May you have great nachas from him.

    As for Bilaam:
    1. I once saw an interview with Isacc Asimov. He was asked if he has any faith, and he answered that he believes that the universe is ultimately comprehensible to the human mind. Asked if he believes in God, he answered No. And he added that he decidedly disapproves of religion: If he knew that there was a God, and God wanted him to adhere to a specific code of ethics and behavior, he would refuse, because a man has to make his own decisions. Something like "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees."
    2. There's a Medrash by the Dor Haflagah that says that they believed, possibly correctly, that God made mankind with Godlike autonomy. If all mankind decided to do something, even if it were contrary to God's will, they would be given the ability to carry it out without contravention. This is something like Reb Meir Simcha's vort in the parsha of Krias Yam Suf regarding the generation of Achav.

  3. Reb harold Moskowitz sent me the following comment in '09:

    ... if Bilaam was Lavan, as the Gemora states, then why is it so hard to understand his rishus? Or that his talmidim will be so unlike Moshe's? If anything, what is hard to understand is our adoption of many of his actions as our minhagim (at least regarding chasunos). Further, if Bilaam was, on the other hand, Lavan's son -- see Eliyahu Ki Tov on the parsha -- (which he states was the fear of his klala being a rasha son of such a rasha), then I guess you have to go to the chasidishe derech of tumah having the same yecholis in the world as kedusha.