If It Can Happen To Bilaam, It Can Happen to Any of Us
By Rabbi Yissocher Frand
These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: Tape # 199, Stam Yeinom: Non-Kosher Wines. Good Shabbos!
Parshas Balak contains an incident which teaches us a tremendous ethical lesson. For me personally, it is one of the scariest mussar teachings in the Torah.
This incident involves a person named Bilaam, who had a tremendous power of speech. Whomever he blessed was blessed; whomever he cursed was cursed. He was a very powerful man — a person who did not command divisions of armies; but he had an almost magical power of speech.
Bilaam is asked to employ this power against the Jews. He knows that G-d does not want him to go, but he decides to go nevertheless. While on the way, what happens to him? His donkey stops, refuses to move, then all of a sudden the donkey opens up his mouth and starts talking to him. Since the history of the world began, such a thing never happened — and never again will happen — that a donkey should talk to a man.
If someone doubts whether what he is doing is right or wrong and suddenly his car stops and tells him “Don’t go” (and not just one of those recorded voices saying “Your seatbelt isn’t buckled…”) — would that not cause the person to at least stop and wonder whether he is doing the right thing?
We may ask this question even about a person who was not perceptive. However, Bilaam was a wise person. He was a perceptive person. How does a perceptive person view his donkey talking to him?
Bilaam should have said to himself, “My strength is my speech. Who gave me that power? G-d. The proof is that the same G-d who gave me the power of speech, just gave my donkey the power of speech! “Who gives a mouth to man or Who makes one dumb…” [Shmos 4:11] From where is my strength? Me talking is not any bigger miracle than my donkey talking. It’s the same strength of G-d.”
What should Bilaam have concluded? He should have concluded that he was not using his power of speech correctly, and that he should turn back. Is this not as clear as day? Is the message not clear? Shouldn’t that make an impression? Yet it did not.
This is the lesson we need to learn — how blind people can be! When a person has some type of personal motive — whether it is money or power or anything — a person can literally become completely blind. G-d can almost spell it out to him… G-d CAN actually spell it out to him, but he will not see it!
That is what is so frightening. It can be as clear as day to the objective observer, but the person on his way to sin cannot see what is in front of his own eyes! This is terribly frightening, because if it can happen to Bilaam, it can happen to any one of us! If Bilaam can be blinded, we can be blinded.
This is the tremendous mussar to be derived from the incident of Bilaam: There are none so blind, as those who will not see.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Seattle, Washington.
Technical Assistance by David Hoffman ;Baltimore, Maryland.
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah portion (#199). The corresponding halachic portion for this tape is: Stam Yeinom – – Non Kosher Wines. Other halachic portions for Parshas Chukas / Balak from the Commuter Chavrusah Series include:
- # 018 — Rending Garments on Seeing Yerushalayim
- # 063 — Intermarriage
- # 107 — Rabbonim and Roshei Yeshiva — Do Sons Inherit?
- # 152 — Halachic Considerations of Transplanted Organs
- # 153 — Matrilineal Vs Patrilineal Descent in Determining Identity
- # 200 — Reading Someone’s Mail and Other Privacy Issues
- # 245 — Skin Grafts
- # 289 — Use of Unethical Medical Research
- # 335 — Postponing a Funeral
- # 380 — Bishul Akum I
- # 379 – The Jewish “Shabbos Goy”
- # 424 — Tircha D’Zibura
- # 468 — Birchas Hamapil
- # 512 — Pinchas and Eliyahu Hanavi
- # 556 — Bishul Akum II
- # 600 — Ayin Hora
- # 644 — Makom Kevuah Revisited
- # 687 — Water, Coffee and Tea
- # 731 — Shkia – 7:02: Mincha 7:00 A Problem?
- # 775 — Wine At a Shul Kiddush
- # 820 — K’rias Shemah Without Teffilin
- # 864 — Davening: How Specific Must You Be?
- # 908 — K’rias HaTorah and Tircha D’tziburah
- # 952 — Beer: Is This Bud For You?
- # 994 — Bilam and His Donkey: A Problem with Tzar Ba’alei Chaim?
- #1039 — The Maid Who Made The Cholent
- #1083 — K’rias Shema Shea’al HaMitah: Why?
- #1126 –- Must You Read K’rias Shema
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