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Perashat Balak

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Perashat Balak

Friday, July 03, 2015 Author: Rabbi Daniel Greenwald

So important is the influence of one’s speech that King Solomon, the wisest of men, teaches us that, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”  [Prov. 18:21]  Indeed, our rabbis teach us that speech is a very powerful thing and that we must use it wisely and carefully.  Any misuse can result in sin and severe consequences.  

Rabbi Y. Frand points out that Perashat Balak contains an incident which teaches us a tremendous ethical lesson in the area of speech.  This incident involves the heathen prophet Bil’am, who wielded magical power in the manipulation of his speech. Whoever he blessed was blessed; whoever he cursed was cursed. 

Bil’am was asked by Balak, King of Moab, to employ this magical power and curse Beneh Yisrael. Even though he knows that G-d does not want him curse the Jewish nation, he decides to go nonetheless. While on the way to accomplish his mission, his donkey stops and refuses to budge. Not taking his cue that perhaps there is a good reason his donkey refuses to go forward, Bil’am tries to prod his donkey several times by hitting it.  In an unprecedented event never since repeated, the donkey suddenly opens up her mouth and starts talking to Bil’am, catching him off guard.  In this age of ‘smart devices’, would we not listen if we were cautioned by our device not to do something?  How is it that someone as perceptive as Bil’am would have trouble relating to his donkey speaking to him; trying to warn him to desist from his mission?  

Bil’am should have thought, "My magic is in my speech which was given to me by G-d. The same G-d who gave me the power of speech, just gave my donkey the power of speech!   My magical speech is no bigger of a miracle than is my donkey talking. It is the same strength from G-d." 

This should have made an impression on Bil’am, and he should have therefore concluded that he was not using his power of speech correctly, and should turn back. Yet it did not have any impact on him at all ! 

Rabbi Frand says that this is the lesson to be learned: how blind a person can be! When a person has some type of personal motive -- whether it is money, power or whatever it is -- a person can literally be completely blind. G-d can send him all sorts of hints and CAN even spell it out to him, but he still will not see it! 

That is what is so frightening. Something can be as clear as day to the objective observer, but the person on his way to sin cannot see that which is in front of his own eyes! This is terribly frightening, because if it can happen to Bil’am, it can happen to every one of us! If Bil’am can be blinded, we can be blinded as well. This is the tremendous ethical lesson to be learned from the incident of Bil’am: There are none so blind as those who will not see. 

May Boreh Olam open our eyes so that we may always see the truth that is right in front of our own eyes.

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