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Enthusiastic evil vs. lethargic good (Balak)

Procrastination is opportunity’s natural assassin. — Victor Kiam

The nation of Israel, nearing the end of their desert journey, are encamped on the eastern shore of the Jordan River, near the lands of Moab, with the intention of crossing to the land of Canaan. King Balak of Moab hires the evil sorcerer Bilaam to cast a fatal curse upon the Israelites and drive them from the land. Bilaam was so eager to embark on his malevolent mission that the Torah points out how Bilaam arose first thing in the morning and rushed to saddle his donkey personally as opposed to letting his servants handle such a menial task.

The Midrash states that centuries before Bilaam’s enthusiastic awakening to curse Israel, someone else awoke with great alacrity to saddle his own donkey: our forefather Abraham. He too awakens first thing in the morning to saddle his donkey to take his son Isaac to Mount Moriah as per God’s command. The Midrash explains that Abraham’s awakening was a protection and counteraction to Bilaam’s awakening.

The Chidushei HaRim on Numbers 22:21 asks why such a protection is needed in the first place? Why does the zeal of an evil man need the remedy of Abraham’s enthusiasm? The Chidushei HaRim explains that without the counteraction, Bilaam’s fervor was particularly dangerous, given the nation of Israel’s lethargy, resistance, and procrastination in following God’s directives.

The Chidushei HaRim expands that unfortunately such a phenomenon is ingrained in human nature. In general, we are much faster to pursue efforts of self-gratification and even sin than we are to perform more altruistic and selfless deeds. If we would solely compare Bilaam’s evil enthusiasm to Israel’s lethargic and grudging pursuit of God’s will, it would represent disaster for the Jewish people. Hence the need for Abraham’s passion to give us a fighting chance. Abraham models for us that it is both possible and ideal to be enthusiastic in our service of God; that we should rise with energy every morning, thankful that we have another day to understand and pursue God’s will; that we can do good with excitement as opposed to just out of a sense of duty or obligation; that we can overcome our very strong human tendency to seek self-gratification, sometimes in the wrong ways; that we can be happy and joyful in doing good and being selfless.

May we turn the human tendency around and be quick to do good and very slow to do wrong.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

On the birth of our first grandchild, son to Elchanan and Zahava Spitz. Name to be determined. Mazal Tov!

About the Author
Ben-Tzion Spitz is the former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay. He is the author of six books of Biblical Fiction and hundreds of articles and stories dealing with biblical themes. He is the publisher of Torah.Works, a website dedicated to the exploration of classic Jewish texts, as well as TweetYomi, which publishes daily Torah tweets on Parsha, Mishna, Daf, Rambam, Halacha, Tanya and Emuna. Ben-Tzion is a graduate of Yeshiva University and received his Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University.
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