The most glaring example of being led astray comes from our parsha. G-d at first tells Bilam to stay away from the Jews, but then acquiesces to Bilam’s going. How can we blame Bilam for accepting the job of going to curse the Jews if G-d appeared to him in a dream and gave the OK?
Chazal (cited by Rashi) say “b’derech she’adam rotzeh leilech bah molichin oso” – G-d will lead a person in the direction he/she wants to travel. AddeRabbi beat me to the punch (at least once a week I seem to be writing about something he touched on once before) in citing an amazing R’ Tzadok (Tzidkas haTzadik #64), but after reading his piece I think I interpret R’ Tzadok slightly differently than he does (AddeRabbi – any feedback?).
Just like an ordinary person can marshal tremendous physical energy and invest it in an incorrect cause, a great person can marshal tremendous spiritual energy even to the point of causing miraculous occurrences, but it may all be in the name of a misguided mission. G-d does not lead people astray – people lead themselves astray. A bully who beats people up cannot complain that G-d gave him strength and that caused his downfall; a spiritually great person cannot blame G-d for granting him prophecy.
I think R’ Tzadok means even more than that. Asking why a person would receive nevuah or be able to perform a miracle if they are wrong presupposes that there is some objective definition of “wrong” out there that stands in the way of attaining a deep religious experience like nevuah, and an objective “truth” that opens the door to these experiences. I think R’ Tzadok does not see things that way (see Tzidkas haTzadik #90) – there is no objective truth “out there”; truth is a construct we create as part of our own religious experience. Bilam was sincerely committed to the truth of Torah as he interpreted it, and that sincere commitment gave rise to the power of prophecy.
I’ve been mulling this R’ Tzadok over for 2 days and still am not sure I captured the essence of the idea. It is not easy to digest, and is worth reading in the original.