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Though he tried with all of his might, Bil'am, the evil prophet of the foreign nations, was not able to curse the Jewish People. On the contrary, he was so impressed with what he saw that he blessed them three times; forfeiting the tremendous reward he was promised by King Balak of Moav. Even with his evil eye, Bil'am could only see the abundance of good in the blessed Nation of G-d and expressed his impressions of admiration:

How goodly are your tents, O Ya'akov, your dwelling places, O Yisrael. Stretching out like brooks, like gardens by a river, like aloes planted by Hashem, like cedars by water. Water shall flow from his wells, and his seed shall be by abundant waters; his king shall be exalted over Agag, and his kingdom shall be upraised (Bemidbar 24:5-7).
Unfortunately, many Jewish members of this exalted People do not recognize their own coveted status. Sometimes, being a part of something makes it difficult to recognize its values. The one who is separate from it, on the other hand, can often appreciate its beauty and grandeur. One can gain proper consciousness of his own significance by listening to what others have to say about it.

Reb Yankele Galinsky, shlita, relates his experience when visiting a yeshiva for young ba'alei teshuvah (penitents). After he addressed them, he heard a fellow introduce himself as a newspaper reporter who wanted to interview one of the students who was newly religious - this was a new phenomenon in Israel in those days. He was granted permission and proceeded to ask one of the young men many questions. Reb Yankele found the scene interesting and decided to eavesdrop on the two.

At the end of the interview, the reporter asked the new yeshiva student, "Tell me please, what you think. Who will have a greater portion in Paradise - you, a repentant Jew, or the Ultra-Orthodox child who is growing up in Meah Shearim (an extremely Ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem)? Rabbi Galinsky was sure that the young man would reply that the Talmud says (Berachos 34b) that even the greatest tzaddikim (righteous men) cannot stand in the place of the penitent. Much to his surprise, however, the ba'al teshuvah answered that there is no doubt in his mind that the kid in Meah Shearim will receive much more reward than he will. When asked why, he explained.

"When I was in high school, I was told by others that the "free world" had much to offer: it was full of light and fun and enjoyment. Then I went to the university and had the opportunity to experience that world first hand: drugs, permissiveness and total lack of discipline. Subsequently, I found out the bitter truth: that that world consisted of darkness, boredom and depression. Then, I was lucky enough to be introduced to the world of Torah where the truth and the real light and happiness exist. What choice did I have? How could I not become religious? Any normal individual would feel forced and compelled to do so. And so did I. So what big Paradise can await one who was "forced" to become religious?

"But that boy in Meah Shearim," he continued, "who is still deluded into believing that there is a world of enjoyment out there which pales the world he lives in; and nevertheless he chooses to remain religious, he certainly deserves a very big share in the Garden of Eden!"

May we all learn to appreciate the bliss in being a truly observant Jew and may we be successful in passing on these beliefs and feelings to our children and generations after us. Then we will all be truly happy in this world and in the World-to-Come.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel