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Weekly Chizuk

Parshas Balak

Bilaam - The I Syndrome

Whoever possesses the following three traits is of the disciples of our father Avraham; and whoever possesses the opposite three traits is of the disciples of the wicked Bilaam. The disciples of our father Avraham have a good eye, a meek spirit and a humble soul. The disciples of the wicked Bilaam have an evil eye, a haughty spirit and a gross soul. What is the difference between the disciples of our father Avraham and the disciples of the wicked Bilaam? The disciples of our father Avraham benefit in this world and inherit the World To Come… The disciples of the wicked Bilaam inherit gehinom and descend into the pit of destruction…. (Avos 5:19)

What are the three negative traits of the Bilaam School? Rashi explains the "evil eye" as reflecting a jealous personality that looks at the success of others with a jaundiced eye. Rambam interprets it as overbearing desire to accumulate wealth. The mishnah's second trait certainly refers to excessive pride. Nefesh rechava, the final characteristic, means an exceedingly great abundance of desire. Thus, we have jealousy, arrogance, and the desire for both money and physical pleasure.

Chazal, in their typically sensitive reading, locate all these traits in the biblical account of Bilaam. According to Rashi, the jaundiced eye emerges from Bilaam's look at Am Yisrael in their tents (Bamidbar 24:2). In Ibn Ezra's commentary on Chumash, he cites a similar interpretation and says that Bilaam tried to look at them with an evil eye.

Bilaam expresses disproportionate pride when referring to himself as the one who knows "supernal knowledge" (Bamidbar 24:16). Furthermore, Bilaam tells the officials of Moav that "God prevents me from going with you" (Bamidbar 22:13). Midrash Tanchuma insightfully notes that he could have simply said "G d prevents me from going." The addition of "with you" implies that they are the problem rather than Bilaam's desire to curse. Bilaam claims that if only more distinguished officials had come, G d would have approved Bilaam's strategy. This desire to not admit of one's own inability and to place the blame on others reveals an arrogant demeanor.

Avraham and Bilaam represent on a universal scale diametrically opposed models of character. The mishnah calls on all of us to emulate the traits of Avraham rather than those of Bilaam.

* * *

R' Zusha and the Rav

In the town of Anipoli there were two Rabbis, Rebbe Zusha the Chassid, and the town Rav, a Misnagged. R' Zusha was always happy despite the fact that he had nothing but troubles, poverty, and ill health. The Rav on the other hand, despite his honorable position in the community, was always unhappy, depressed, bitter and angry. He could not bear others, or even himself.

One night, bitter and frustrated he went to ask R' Zusha for help. He sneaked out of his house at an hour when he would not be seen and secretly made his way to the hovel which R' Zusha called home. When he arrived, the lamps were still burning, so he knocked hesitantly. Almost immediately R' Zusha appeared at the door with a smile and an invitation to enter.

"How is it that you are so happy and content and I am always angry and cursing everybody?" asked the bewildered Rav.

"Let me give you an example," offered R' Zusha. "Take the wedding of R' Moshe's daughter. When Reb Moshe, the local oshir, made a wedding for his daughter recently, he dispatched a messenger to personally invite the special citizens of Anipoli. When the messenger came to your house, you demanded to see the guest list. You saw that you were 14th on the list."

'"Chutzpah!' you shrieked, and decided that you would attend, but come late. When you arrived, all the guests were already sitting at the tables and eating the festive meal. When you arrived, there were no empty places to be found.

"Soon, Reb Moshe the philanthropist saw you looking for a place to sit. 'Rabbi,' he called out, 'where have you been?' He brought you to the head table, but there were no more empty places. They brought you a chair, but you sat behind somebody else. You were furious, looking for somebody to lash out at, but nobody was really paying any attention to you. The waiter did not even see you. By the time the host noticed that you were not eating, all the food was gone.

"R' Moshe went into the kitchen to find something, but there was nothing befitting the Rav of Anipoli. Everything had already been picked through. By this time you were cursing the host, the waiters, the guests, and even the bride and groom themselves. When it came time for the bentching and the Sheva Brachos, you had been all but forgotten. You went home broken, angry, and bitter, cursing the Master of the World Himself.

"When the messenger came to the house of R' Zusha (he always referred to himself in the third person), Zusha was taken aback. What a kind gesture! Reb Moshe is inviting Zusha to the wedding of his daughter?! What has Zusha ever done to deserve an invitation to their wedding?!

"So Zusha went two hours early to the wedding. Zusha asked what he could do to help set up. Zusha officiated at the ceremony. Zusha ate a full meal. Zusha was honored with bentching and Zusha recited the Sheva Brachos."

"You see", Rebbe Zusha continued his explanation to the Rav of Anipoli, "you wanted everything, but you ended up with nothing. Zusha didn't ask for anything, but he got it all!"

* * *

Look at Me!

Rav Yechiel Yaakovson, a renowned Israeli educator, once told over an incident that happened while he was driving down the street with a bochur. A motorcycle passed. The guy tried to show off; he thought he was in a circus. Rav Yaakovson decided to use the opportunity to relay a message that he wanted the bochur to hear. This is what he related:

At the next traffic light, I opened the window. He opened the window of his helmet. He looked at me and said: "Uhhhh." (Translation: "Yes, sir, what do you want?")

I heard the language he was speaking so I felt I had to answer in kind. "Wow, what a show!"

"Something, eh!" (Translation: "Boy, wasn't that something special?")

"Not just something, but out of this world."

We continued the conversation a bit, and then I said to him, "Yeah, it was something special, but what a pity."

"What do you mean?" His tone of voice changed to suspicion. Something had gone wrong with the flow of the conversation.

"Both you and I know that what you did doesn't come as easy as it seems. All those gyrations on one wheel really get your pulse moving and put you under a constant intense pressure. We have both read about young motorcyclists dying from heart attacks at a relatively young age. You know that if there is any gravel or an oil spill on the pavement you will not be able to see it until it's too late. With four wheels you might be able to retain control, but not with two or one. The sudden turns you make are frightening, they create severe tension. And you do this every day.

"But it's worth it, so the gang should see. But there is a price.

"What is not fair in this world, is that after all the practice, all the danger, all the tension, someone else harvests the profits. If I go home and I tell them, 'You know, I saw… Excuse me, what's your name?' 'David.' '…I saw David today on his Suzuki. Wow! What spins!' Then, maybe, perhaps, at least you got your name mentioned. But now, all I see is the Suzuki. I don't see you. I don't know who you are. Maybe, if you put on the show back home… Where do you live? Tiveria. Fine. At least there you can show off in front of all your friends. Go to Tiveria, ride on one wheel, break your bones, crack your skull. Then, maybe it's worth it. The gang will see. But here, on the highway? What do you have from it? Nobody sees you. All they see is the Suzuki. They see some crazy guy driving like a maniac. And they don't even know it's you!"

"Ugh! You're driving me crazy!" And with that he drove off.

I turned to the boy next to me. "Don't you think this is really weird? This guy comes along. You see him for a split second. You don't even know who he is. And he's willing to break his neck to show off in front of you. There are battles on the highway. Cars pass each other and cut each other off, and when they lose, they go mad. But they never succeeded in passing me, only my car. They don't see me, they see my car. That doesn't insult me at all.

"People are so easily insulted. I met a boy once, he had gone to Tel Aviv. Some people there made fun of him because he's a Charedi. He was so broken from the experience. He couldn't learn, he couldn't sleep. Totally broken.

"I told him, 'The same thing happened to me. I was once in Brooklyn and some goyim yelled at me, "Hey Jew boy!" That is the same thing right?'


"'Why not?'

"'Oh, some stupid goyim, what do you care about them?'

"'And what do you care about those kids in Tel Aviv? They laughed at you? They made fun of you? They saw some Charedi. Ten minutes later they're gone. What do you care? They made fun of some Charedi, not you.'"

They once made a secret study. There has been thirty years of progress in the field of orthopedics on every level; from shoes, to beds and mattresses, to chairs. And you know what? The back problems only got worse. But not exactly the same problems. New ones. They found that most people do not walk naturally. Even at night when they are sleeping, they lie there as if they are posing; as if someone is standing there staring at them.

If only they would feel that HaKadosh Baruch Hu was looking at them. When they step forward to Shemoneh Esre, do they feel the same thing? Or is it different?

Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!

© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
4 Panim Meirot, Jerusalem 94423 Israel
Tel: 732-858-1257
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood).
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