Hear What You Want
By Rabbi Moshe Peretz Gilden
As the Jews camped in the desert near the border of Moav a sinister plan
unfolding. Balak, King of Moav, sent messengers to Balaam asking him to
curse the Jewish people, enabling him to then defeat them. Balaam received
a command from G-d in a dream that he should not go with these people.
they arrived, Balaam said "G-d refused to let me go with you" (Numbers
22:13). Rashi comments that he was really sending a subtle message that G-
said, "I cannot go with you, but I may go with dignitaries of greater
stature than you."
How could it be that G-d explicitly said not to go and yet he went? Rabbi
Chaim Shmulevitz (1) observes that although Balaam was a prophet, he
interpreted the prophecy to fit his own designs. The root cause of error is
that people ultimately hear what they want to hear.
The Talmud (Gittin 45a) relates a time that Rav Ilish was taken captive.
One day a man who knew the language of birds sat next to him. A raven came
and called to Rav Ilish who asked the man, "What is the bird saying?" The
man answered, "Ilish run, Ilish run!" Rav Ilish said, "Ravens lie so I
not rely on him." Meanwhile, a dove came and called out. Rav Ilish again
asked the man, "What is the bird saying?" The man answered, "Ilish run,
Ilish run!" Rav Ilish knew that the dove would not lie and so he escaped
Just as Rav Ilish did not want to trust the raven, why would he trust this
stranger and risk his life by attempting to escape? Did he not need to be
concerned that this stranger was misinterpreting, or even lying about, the
bird's message? We may conclude that Rav Ilish knew bird language himself.
Nevertheless, he consulted with the stranger to make sure that he heard
correctly. He was afraid that perhaps he was hearing what he wanted to
Throughout our lives we receive many messages that can help us improve.
They may come from parents, teachers, mentors, and even from the
in which we live. Most essential is to strip ourselves of our own personal
agendas, so that we hear what they say, not what we want them to have said.
Have a Good Shabbos!
This issue of Kol HaKollel is dedicated in memory of Rebbetzin Devorah
Rennert, Devorah Rivkah bas Shlomo haLevi
(1) Rosh Yeshiva/Dean of the Mir Yeshiva, who led his students from the
ashes of the European Holocaust to the glory of Jerusalem
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Moshe Peretz Gilden
Kol HaKollel is a publication of The Milwaukee Kollel Center for Jewish Studies · 5007 West Keefe Avenue · Milwaukee, Wisconsin · 414-447-7999