Bilam HaTzadik?

Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Parshas Balak

A simple reading of Parshas Balak leaves us with the distinct impression that Bilaam was a good man. He refused to go against G-d, the dignitaries of Balak do not intimidate him, and he sees Angels, receives prophecy and composes beautiful blessings and bestows them upon Klal Yisroel!

Then you go through Rashi and you find out that his prophecy wasn’t real, his Midos were vulgar, he was an anti-Semite and an opportunist. Chazal call him Bilaam HaRasha. Why is there such a stark contrast between the written and the oral?

The answer is that while the Chumash, the written text, gives us a glance at how Bilaam looked, the oral tradition gives us insight into what Bilaam really was; the real Bilaam. Herein lies a dichotomy of life. A person can look so noble, ethical, spiritual and holy that you’re absolutely convinced that this is the most special person on Earth, and then you take a look at Rashi and it’s a whole different kettle of fish.

G-d in His infinite wisdom has setup a very complex system of management. A system of supernal control with a provision for free choice. He creates sustenance for every living creature but there is good sustenance and bad sustenance. Someone asked Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky Zatzal, “If G-d does not want people to cheat and to steal, why then does G-d give cheaters and stealers so much money?” Rav Yaakov answered that they don’t get their money from G-d, their money is coming to them from the sitra achara, I’m not sure what it means to be funded by the sitra achara, all I know is I don’t want to go there. A few weeks ago I mentioned the Maharsha in Sanhedrin. Torah institutions that are built from dishonest money will not last. The bricks and the mortar are there, but the energy is all-wrong. There is good sustenance and bad sustenance. There is good spirituality and bad spirituality. It’s like bodybuilding; one can spend months training and toning to reach a level of fitness or one can do the job quickly by taking some steroids.

Bilaam was bad spirituality. He was willing to use his connections to curse. Curse in the name of G-d! His funding was the sitra achara. I have a personal rule. When I hear someone speak in the name of G-d I listen carefully to what they are saying. If it’s always negative, if it is hurtful to others, if it is destructive and argumentative, I say “lo MaHashem yatza zos!” This does not come from the heavens. They are appealing to the Yetzer HaRa. Beware of bad spirituality. It was bad spirituality, hate in the name of G-d, that destroyed the Bais HaMikdash.

On the outside Bilaam looked very holy but Rashi gives us the real picture. It was negative and destructive. Bilaam took spiritual steroids. Bilaam himself, when praising the Jewish people said, “Lo Nachash B”Yaakov,” There is no black magic amongst them, no steroids; they’re the real thing!

The lesson of Bilaam is that we need to be the real thing. We can’t be fooled by impostors and more importantly we can’t become imposters. Our lives and livelihoods have to be energized by kedusha and then they will be meaningful, substantive and real.

© Copyright 2005