Tipot BaYam

Drops in the Sea of Torah.

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"I blog, therefore I am". Clearly not true, or I wouldn't exist except every now and then.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Parashat Balak

Bil'am has always intrigued me. I mean, Chazal say that he's the only person ever to attain a level of nevua comparable to Moshe Rabbenu's. He knew that Hashem was for real. And yet he acted against us.

The midrash tells us that Bil'am, Yitro and Iyov were all advisors to Pharaoh. When Pharaoh wanted to wipe us out, Yitro refused, and fled to Midyan. Iyov stayed neutral. And Bil'am was happy to help.

He seems like scum.

So what's the deal with him having that kind of nevua? I mean, was it just, as the midrash also tells us, so that the other nations would never be able to complain and say, "Well, sure. If we'd had a Moshe Rabbenu, we'd be all holy and all, just like them. It's not our fault."

That's cute, but I want to suggest something else. And that's free will. Bechira chofshit.

I've often heard it said that it's actually a good thing that Hashem is beyond our ability to perceive. That if Hashem was standing there looking over your shoulder, you'd have no free will. After all, who is going to eat a ham sandwich with the Creator of Everything watching?

Well, Bil'am would, don't you think? I mean, Bil'am is the counterproof to the idea that having solid knowledge of Hashem would detract from our free will. And I don't think that Bil'am is at all special in this way. Heck, look at the way Bnei Yisrael acted in the desert. I mean, the Red Sea splits for you and drowns your enemies, and you kvetch? Hashem talks to you from a cloud, and 40 days later, you're screwing around with a golden calf?

The way I see it, and this is going to be a recurring theme throughout this blog, there are two opposing views in the world. One is that there is a purpose in the world. Hashem's purpose. That things do not just happen, but rather than they happen for a reason. This is the idea of Kedusha. The people who represent and champion this view are Am Yisrael.

The other view is that everything just happens. No great plans, just dumb nature ticking on like a clock without anything behind it. This is what the Torah calls Keri. And the people who represent and champion this view are Amalek.

There's a third view, which is less common. It's a view that says that while it may be true that Hashem created us, and that He has a plan, and that things don't just happen for no reason, that this circumstance is intolerable. That if Keri isn't true, it oughta be. That those who push the Kedusha view of the world are enemies of mankind, because they knock us off of the throne of creation.

This is what Bil'am is all about. He knows that Hashem is the One Creator of Everything. And it makes him feel like a bug. And he knows that he can't exactly lash out at Hashem directly. So he settles for doing his damnedest to scuttle Hashem's plans. And free will makes that possible.

This is why, when all of his attempts to evade Hashem's clear intent that he bless Klal Yisrael fail, he advises the Midyanites to hit us right in the Kedusha. He knows what he's doing, does Bil'am, and it works. Not to the extent that he wants it to, but had it not been for Pinchas, it might have. That, however, is for next week.

Shabbat Shalom.