Divrei Torah

PARSHAS BALAK 5777

Our Rabbis teach us that the non-Jewish world had a good deal. They complained to G-d that He favored the Jewish people. “After all, You gave them a great prophet, Moshe, who was the greatest person that ever lived. Give us a great prophet and we will show You that we can also be good.” So, G-d gave them the prophet Bilam. 

After the death of Moshe, the Torah states, “And no one arose in Israel again as Moshe.” Our Rabbis teach us that the Torah is informing us of an important fact. The Jewish people had nobody else like Moshe. However, the non-Jewish world did have an equivalent to Moshe. That equivalent was the prophet Bilam, who turned out to be quite an evil person. 

Bilam was as greedy as they come. He refused to go against the word of G-d and curse the Jewish people . . . until Balak paid him a handsome sum of cash . . . our Rabbis teach us that Bilam committed the sin of bestiality with his donkey several times. After all of his unsuccessful attempts at cursing the Jewish people, Bilam proposed another evil plan – immorality.  Bilam told Balak that G-d does not like immorality. Balak then let loose the women of Midyan, who seduced the Jewish men and brought terrible destruction upon the Jewish people through their immorality.

Bilam is the quintessential example of a person whom G-d blesses with great gifts and then goes out to use those great gifts for evil purposes. 

In the movie “Genocide”, there is a piece that is dedicated to the Wannsee Conference, where the Final Solution was proposed, drawn up and implemented. The movie shows still photographs of many of the nazis involved in that decision. Everyone in those pictures had either a PHD or an MD. 

In the Majdanek death camp there is a barracks that has about ten pictures of the various nazi commandants or supervisors there. Under every picture, accompanying the name was the title Dr.

People say that education is the key to raising good people. In Jewish tradition education and the transmission of basic literacy is essential to Jewish existence. The Torah says, “And you shall teach them to your children.” 

Education is important. But, education does not mean a person lives morally or ethically. What he or she does with that education is another matter. So, a person who is governed by the Torah, hopefully applies what he or she has learned for the benefit of the human race. A person who is governed by proper rules – the morals of the Torah - benefits society. One who is motivated by the whims of society or his/her own desires, is destructive to society and the world. That is Bilam.  It is about Bilam that we say the Bracha after the Haftara, “G-d, Who chose good prophets.” Aren’t all prophets good? The answer is, “No”. Bilam – a prophet akin to Moshe – was a destructive force upon the world. 

G-d gives us tools – knowledge, skills, talents and opportunities. It is up to us – be like Moshe or Bilam. G-d gave us a good deal – the Torah – the ultimate source of knowledge and morals. With the Torah, if properly utilized, we can make quite astounding “prophets” with the cost and the collateral of our time and efforts.