Monday, June 28, 2010

an excuse for change

Commenting on Bilam's words, “Melech Moav shalach eilay,” that the King of Moav had called upon him to curse Klal Yisrael, the Ishbitzer reminds us that Bilam himself had a long history of plotting against the Jewish people. According to the Midrash, it was Bilam who advised Pharoah how to enslave the Jewish people. Having heard of the greatness of yetziyas Mitzrayim, Bilam was held in check by fear and did no further harm. He dared not initiate a plot, but instead waited, biding his time. Balak’s invitation was just the excuse he needed. Bilam could now pass off the initiation of hostilities as Balak’s idea while taking full advantage of the opportunity to do as much harm as he could.

Sound familiar? How many so-called intellectuals would claim that they would dare not sully themselves with base anti-Semitism, but given the opportunity to speak out about a flotilla, a Goldstone report, the suffering in Gaza, suddenly their voices are heard. The hypocrisy is evident; for four years Gilad Schalit has been held in clear violation of the Geneva conventions and none of these “humanists” has anything to say.

Current events are important, but I think the Ishbitzer wanted to tell us more than that. His concern is usually our avodah and personal growth, and here too, there is something to learn in that regard. Even if we would not dream of taking the initiative and doing something questionable ourselves, when faced with the invitation from a "Melech Moav," suddenly we concoct excuses to warrant joining the fun. There is a Bilam inside our hearts that desires nothing more than to destroy our sense of kedusha. Fortunately, that internal Bilam is usually held in check by fear, by our yiras shamayim. But all it takes is some small opportunity, some excuse, and that opening becomes the invitation that allows the spirit of Bilam to throw off its shackles. To steal from a fellow Jew – never! But when a great business opportunity presents itself and you are “only” a partner with Melech Moav, suddenly what used to be black and white in the abstract can seem very grey. I’m sure we can all think of many other examples.

But why should we focus on the negative only? Zeh l’umas zeh, there is an upside that counterbalances every downside. How many Jewish souls are out there that will never take the initiative to make Shabbos or to open a siddur and daven? Like Bilam, these souls are held in check by fear -- not fear of doing wrong and suffering punishment, but fear of changing their life to come closer to avodah. These souls need an invitation to act, a calling to provide an excuse for change. The person who would not on his own open a gemara might be willing to join a chavrusa; the person who might never take the initiative to make Shabbos might be willing to join others for kiddush. When someone asks Ploni why he suddenly is getting up an hour earlier to learn the daf, why he suddenly is busy every Saturday morning, that Jew will have the excuse he needs. Not Melech Moav, but, Ya’akov or Berel or Reuvain or Shimon "shalach eilay," and their invitation has made all the difference.