By A. Simantov
In the Psalms, it is stated, “You have given to those who fear you a nais (banner) to display because of the truth.” When Abraham is tested, the word nissah is used; the two words are closely linked. “A banner is a symbolic object,” says Rabbi M. Miller in his sefer Shabbat Shiurim. “It is displayed, raised in the air to demonstrate some truth to the world. And this is, ultimately, the purpose of the tests and temptations to which everyone is exposed.” Some, like Abraham, pass their tests with flying colors; some partially succeed; and some, like Balaam, fail totally.
Both Moshe and Balaam make their own marks, or monuments, on history. Balaam was given the gift of prophecy by God and, consequently, left a monument of falsehood and trickery. Not only was he given this gift, but in one area our sages agree he was superior to Moshe. He was the only person privileged to know the exact period of God’s anger. Moshe did not have this perception. Why? Rabbi Chayim Volozhin answers by bringing forth an analogy:
“The eagle and the bat both know the times of the rising and setting of the sun but for opposite reasons. The eagle rejoices in the sun’s rays, while in the darkness he is blind and incapacitated. The bat, on the other hand, finds pleasure only in the gloom and shadows of the night and shrinks from the light of day when his sight dims.” Both of them feel the coming of the dawn but for the eagle, it means clarity, vision and joy. For the bat, it is obscurity and confusion.
The perceptions of Moshe and Balaam are similar. Balaam was sensitive to the night due to God’s wrath against Israel. His desire was to curse, and he was conscious of the exact moment of God’s anger, seizing the moment with instant joy. To Moshe, this moment of wrath was veiled in darkness and dread; but the goodness and love of God was like a radiance or dawn before his sight, beaming, crystal clear. We can say that both prophets were granted the same powers of vision, but ultimately the personal qualities and values of each came into play. Balaam displays moral weakness, greed, egoism and infantile notions of morality. He enters into a conversation with his donkey without any sense of strangeness or incongruity; he is so puffed up and conceited that he does not perceive his own moral obtuseness. Conversely, Moshe leaves a legacy of closeness, morality, complete spiritual perception and a sharply defined understanding of God’s will. Their capabilities were similar, but their accomplishments were sharply contrasted.
According to Rabbi Miller, “Talents are given by God in His wisdom to each individual according to his purpose and function in the world…and we all have a purpose and function in the world. It is for the individual to exploit these gifts to the greatest spiritual advantage; to develop morally. …Each person must use his own tools to carve out his own contribution to perfection.”
But how is one able to perceive the level of his contribution? Our daily prayers state: “Kol HaN’shamah T’Hallel Kah.” (“All souls praise His name” or “Each person according to his praise.”) You can have three men attend the same synagogue breakfast. Exiting, they are heard commenting on the festivities. One is enthusiastic about the Torah talk while the second loved the singing. However, the third can only praise the herring. Rabbi Avigdor Miller opines that you can tell the essence of a person by what he talks about and by what excites him. Balaam became excited by money and honor while Moshe became excited when his beloved people were suffering or facing divine punishment.
What will be your contribution, your monument? Maybe it can be found in what excites you.
From the Torah to your table
Rashi comments that Balaam praised the Jewish people when he saw that the entrances of their tents were not facing one another. People are naturally curious about the comings and goings of their neighbors. As such, Bnei Yisroel, by erecting their camp in such a manner, assisted themselves in overcoming this natural tendency while preserving the privacy of others. Discuss this Torah principle of respecting the privacy of others as it pertains to the rights of neighbors, friends, parents, teachers, siblings and children.
July Torah Portions
July 7: Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9)
July 14: Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1)
July 21: Matot/Massei (Numbers 30:2-36:13)
July 28: Devarim (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11)