This week's Torah portion revolves around the saga of the evil prophet Bilam
who was commissioned by Balak, king of Moav, to curse the nation of Israel.
The Torah describes Bilam's repeated futile attempts to curse the Jews and
the subsequent blessings that flowed involuntarily from his lips.
When Bilam initially asked permission from Hashem to accompany Balak's
messengers, Hashem instructed him not to acquiesce. "Do not curse the people
for they are blessed," Bilam was told. However, after Balak sent a second,
more prestigious group of messengers, and Bilam again asked Hashem for
permission to go, Hashem permitted him to travel to Balak, to carry out the
king's dark mission.
Immediately afterwards, the Torah tells us that Hashem's wrath was directed
at Bilam 'ki holech hu'; "for he was going [with the messengers]." The
commentaries all ask the obvious question: If Bilam was given permission to
go with the emissaries, why was Hashem angry at him for doing so? The
commentaries explain that Hashem's wrath was directed at Bilam because he
had flaunted Hashem's true intent, which was that Bilam should accompany the
delegation and follow Hashem's instructions upon arrival. 'Kum lech itam';
you may accompany them," the posuk says. But instead of merely traveling
with the delegation, Bilam joined them with great gusto, as the Torah hints
with the words, 'vayelech im sarei Moav. He was impressed with the status of
these ministers-senior officials of Moav-and embraced their mission.
Bilam relished the thought of being able to curse the Jewish people and was
determined to take full advantage of the opportunity to topple them from
their exalted state. In retaliation, Hashem sent an angel to block Bilam's
way and to strike him. In a spectacular miracle, Bilam's donkey opened its
mouth and reprimanded him, humiliating the arrogant Bilam.
The commentaries observe that if demonstrating passion and excitement to
commit a sin provokes Hashem's fierce anger, applying this same passion and
enthusiasm to the performance of mitzvos must surely elicit a dynamic
response of an opposite nature-an outpouring of Divine favor and grace that
cements our bond with Him. The strength of that connection is entirely
dependent on the spirit and love that we invest into performance of His mitzvos.
The noted educator, Rabbi Shmuel Dishon, conducts a highly successful
outreach camp in Russia during the summer months. A few years ago, a Bosnian
girl approached the camp directors and expressed her desire to embrace the
Jewish religion. After being repeatedly rebuffed by the camp's
administrative staff, she begged to be able to speak to the camp director,
Rabbi Dishon. When Rabbi Dishon arrived from the United States, he invited
her into his office and asked her why she would want to become Jewish. She
outlined her spiritual aspirations and expressed her deep desire to share in
the Jewish people's destiny. Rabbi Dishon tried to dissuade her. 'You
realize", he told her, "that if G-d forbid another despot like Hitler tried
to destroy the Jews, you too would be targeted."
"That is a small price to pay for an eternal connection to the Divine," she
replied. "But you could gain a passport to the world to come by upholding
the seven Noachide laws," Rabbi Dishon responded.
"True, I could keep the Noachide laws but the sanctity and intimate
connection with Hashem cannot be acquired through the Seven Noachide laws,"
the young woman said. "I am not interested in simply expanding my portfolio.
I want to be truly one with Hashem."
Bilam recognized that the true source of the Jewish people's unique
connection with Hashem was not simply their observance of His commandments
but rather the love, devotion and zealousness with which they performed His
mitzvos. It is the level of that commitment to devote one's life to carrying
out His will with love that defines the quality and depth of our connection
with our Creator in Heaven.