Illuminations #38, Tammuz 5775, Parshat Balak

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Illuminations #38, Tammuz 5775, Parshat Balak

Torah Gems

In this week’s parsha we are introduced to one of the most enigmatic characters in the Torah. Bilam was a man of unlimited potential whose prophecy rivaled that of Moshe Rabbeinu, yet for honor and fortune he stubbornly persisted in his attempt to defy Hashem and curse Klal Yisrael. How is it possible for a man who is destined for greatness to sink to such depths?

​The Mishna in Avos states that anyone who possess the following three traits is a student of Bilam: a bad eye, a haughty spirit, and a lustful tendency. Although Bilam truly did possess a soul which was capable of attaining incredible spiritual heights, he never worked on fixing his negative traits which would prove to be his ultimate downfall. He merited visions which no one else experienced, yet seeing someone else’s success bothered him – he had a bad eyeBilam attained high levels of spirituality but he craved honor – he had a haughty spirit. He performed wondrous feats but he never worked on harnessing his desires – he had a lustfull tendency.

​The Mishna says that on the other hand, the students of Avraham have the three positive traits: a good eye, a humble spirit, and lowly disposition. Those that follow Avraham Avinu’s school of thought are humble, rejoice in their friend’s happiness and rein in on their desires.

​A person may have mastered many tractates of gemara and may pray fervently, but as long as he has not perfected his character traits, he is a student of Bilam. To achieve true greatness one must attain sterling character traits like that of Avrahom Avinu.

Parsha Pearls

​Reb Yitzchak Zilberstein once entered the house of a young couple; he was taken aback to see the young man sitting on an oversized golden arm chair that nearly resembled a throne. Seeing his puzzled expression, the young man explained that he learned in the Rambam that a wife is supposed to treat her husband like a king so he purchased himself a throne-of-sorts to ensure that she would treat him accordingly…

​After gently rebuking the misguided young man, Rabbi Zilberstein told him that if he truly wished to be fit the title of king, he need look no further than the first 3 verses of our parsha. The pasuk states “Balak, son of Tzipor, saw all that Israel had done to the Amerite. Moab became very frightened of the people because they were numerous.” Balak observed what was going on, realized what the nation needed, and took appropriate action by speaking to the elders of Midian. Only afterwards do we find the pasuk saying “Balak, son of Tzipor, was king of Moab.”

​Rabbi Zilberstein continued that if the young man wished to be called a king in his house, he first needed to observe what his wife lacked, assist her accordingly, and only then would he truly be worthy of being called a king.

Glimpses of Greatness

​The CEO of Starbucks, Mr. Howard Schultz, once visited the home of R’ Nosson Tzvi Finkel with a group of prominent businessmen. As they sat in the study, R’ Nosson Tzvi looked around the room and asked them, “Who can tell me, what was the lesson of the Holocaust?” When several minutes passed without an answer, R’ Nosson Tzvi answered his own question. “As you know, during the Holocaust, the people were transported in the most inhumane way to the concentration camps where family were brutally separated from each other. As they went into the area for sleep, only one out of six people received a blanket. The lucky recipient had to decide if he would keep it for himself or if he would push it to others.” R’ Finkel continued, “It was during this defining moment that we learn the power of the human spirit because we pushed the blanket to five others.” With that he stood up and said, “Take your blanket, take it back to America and push it to five other people.”