From Insights and Inspirations
Published by the Ra’anana Community Kollel
Ra’anana Community Kollel
Make Up Your Mind!
Rabbi Dovid Horwitz
A strange dialogue takes place between the evil Bilaam and Hashem regarding whether to accept Balak’s offer to go and curse the Jewish people. After receiving Balak’s offer to curse the Jews, Hashem appeared to Bilaam, clearly instructing him not to go with Balak’s men to curse the Jews. After receiving Bilaam’s refusal, Balak dispatched another group of messengers to persuade Bilaam to accept his proposal. This time around, Hashem gave Bilaam permission to go with Balak’s men. The Torah then relates how Hashem became angry over the fact that Bilaam went. During the journey, Bilaam meets up with an angel of G-d who was sent by Hashem to discourage him from continuing. When asked whether he should continue, the angel permitted him to proceed with his journey.
This sequence of events leaves us very perplexed. Did Hashem want Bilaam to go or did He not? The Vilna Gaon, noting a slight deviancy in the wording of the verses, explains as follows. Hashem never wavered in His opinion regarding Bilaam’s mission to curse the Jews. He clearly instructed Bilaam not to do so, for the Jewish people are a blessed nation. After Balak’s men offered great sums of money to Bilaam, Hashem allowed him to go, not for the sake of cursing the Jews but rather for the money he stood to gain. When Bilaam went with Balak’s men, Hashem discerned that Bilaam was actually going not for the money per se, but rather because he really wanted to curse the Jews, as Bilaam hated them terribly. Hashem became angry with Bilaam because he disobeyed His command to only go for the sake of the money and not out of his hatred for the Jews. Therefore, Hashem sent an angel to discourage Bilaam from completing his journey. However, when He saw that, despite the angel’s threats, Bilaam still wanted to go, He relented and gave him permission to go and no longer attempting to dissuade him from his evil plan. In fact the angel hints as much to Bilaam that Hashem will no longer frustrate his attempts, but that Bilaam’s end will come to naught and destruction.
We learn two very important lessons from the Vilna Gaon’s explanation. Firstly, the destructive power that a transgression carries for the transgressor and its potential effects to the Jewish people varies tremendously according to the person’s motives for committing the crime. Hashem was willing to let Bilaam curse the Jewish people for money, as such an act would have had little effect in damaging the holiness of the Jewish people as it would not have been performed sincerely. Once, however, Bilaam showed that his interest in cursing the Jews was “sincere” for the sake of destroying them, his ability to hurt the Jewish people was much greater, and therefore Hashem disallowed him from doing so. It is not only the act of the sin itself that determines its negativity, but the thoughts and motives put into it as well.
Secondly, Hashem went to great lengths, even after Bilaam showed his true colors, to discourage him from carrying out his crime. However, once He saw that even the angel was unable to dissuade him, Hashem relented and told him to go with Balak’s men. In no way was Hashem agreeing to Bilaam’s plan. However, Hashem only tries to help a person who is willing to help himself. Hashem may try once or twice to save a person from his own destructive behavior. If He sees that the person is resolved to carry out his evil plans, He will eventually let him do so. Rashi sums up this idea by stating that “in the path that a person wants to go, Hashem will guide him.” This is a very sobering idea. We very much believe that Hashem is with us and that He always helps us to do what is right. This of course is true but only to the degree that the person is concerned to do the right thing. If a person actively and consciously chooses to pursue a life of evil, although Hashem might try to help turn him around at first, He will soon give up and allow the person to destroy himself without any interferences.
We have a Father in Heaven who loves us dearly and helps us constantly. The degree that He comes to our spiritual assistance is up to us!