In this weeks Parsha, Balak invites Bilam, a scorcer and prophet, to curse
Bnai Yisroel. Bilam had prophetic powers similar to Moshe Rabbeinu. Hashem rested
his divine presence on him. Rashi notes that the reason for this was to prevent the pagans
from claiming that had they had a prophet as great as Moshe, they, too, wouldve been
influenced for the good. Ultimately, Bilam had a tremendous negative effect on them,
causing them to break the barriers of decency. If so, the pagans can say that their claim
still stands, for indeed they did not have a prophet of the caliber of Moshe, but instead
a corrupt and evil one.
If we understand the correct outlook on the subject of greatness, we can see where the
pagans are mistaken. The pagans believed that a man who had supreme intellectual powers
and the divine presence resting on him was automatically a great man. They believed that
the way to greatness was in amassing knowledge and wisdom. This is not so.
Knowledge in itself does not have the power to change the inborn nature of a person.
"Ki yetzer lev haadam ra mneorav." Man is born with a yetzer hara,
an evil inclination. Only at the age of Bar or Bat Mitzvah is the yetzer hatov added. A
person must work on themselves relentlessly to conquer and uproot the yetzer hara, and
only then can he reach perfection. Throughout the generations, Hashem rested his divine
presence only on those who ceaselessly labored to overcome their yetzer hara.
Thus, to the pagans, whose innate nature was corrupt, prophecy and wisdom would have no
lasting effect. This is what Hashem was showing them by giving them a prophet such as
Bilam. Since Bilam didnt strive to overcome his base inclination, all of the wisdom
in the world had no effect on him.
The task of a person is to tirelessly work on perfecting their ways, for dry knowledge
will have no permanent effect on a person. (Taam Vdaas)
In the words of R Yisroel Salanter, the founder of the mussar movement, "Man
lives in order to break the bad middah which he has not yet broken. In order to do so, he
must constantly strengthen himself, and if he doesnt strengthen himself, why does he
According to Jewish tradition, the mother is the one who is assigned the prime
responsibility of refining the character traits of her children. Besides seeing to it that
our children have an adequate Jewish education, we must also insure that they develop fine
character traits in the home.
Source: Taam Vadaas
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