Parashat Balak

The Power of Choice

When we think about this deeply, we are shocked.  As long as we discuss the evil Bilam and his choices, we can look at him from the side and become angry at his inflexibility and his horrifying impurity however when it comes close to us and touches our choices, it begins to stress us out.


Harav Israel Asulin

Wedsnesday, 14th of Tammuz, 5775


One of the most amazing and exceptional things that we learn from this Torah portion, is the matter of the power of choice.  As Rebbe Natan says in Likutei Halachot[1] (Orach Hayim- Hilchot Birkot Ha’shachar, Halacha 5): “We see in this Torah portion about Bilam, the principle of the power of choice in the matter of him going to curse Israel, G-d forbid; and how Hashem acts with him; because he had a very strong desire to curse them…”  Bilam, the son of Beor, so badly wanted to curse Israel, we was on fire with desire and vigorous with urge.  He was a solidified mass of passionate yearning to curse.  He knew that Hashem loves Israel with extra love.  He knew that the nation of Israel was the chosen people and the blessed amongst all the nations.  He knew that no father would give permission to curse his sons, in any situation.  Nevertheless, he is stubborn.  “In spite of the fact that he discovered that everything is in the hand of Hashem; he still went on his way to continue with his same desire…”  Hashem says to him, ‘You shall not go with them! You shall not curse the people because they are blessed’ (Bamidbar[2] Chapter 22, Verse 12)”[3].   Everything that he hears is “don’t go with them”- with the original ministers Hashem does not let him go, but if Balak brings him ministers that are greater than them- then there is a chance.  Balak[4] sends to him ministers that are superior, and again Bilam waits to speak to Hashem, maybe this time Hashem will be persuaded?  “And then when they came a second time and Hashem saw that he had strengthened his impure will to go, Hashem said to him: ‘If these men have come to call for you, arise and go with them’[5]…”.  Bilam arises in the morning, full of fervent hatred, saddles his donkey, without waiting for his servants to do so, and joins the messengers of Balak- happy to curse Israel.  “After this when he went, his donkey stood there three times and was oppressed by the angel that came toward him to follow him.  He did not pay attention to this and went on his evil way, until Hashem opened his donkey’s mouth and spoke to him and reprimanded him.  Afterwards Hashem revealed to him the angel who was positioned toward him with a drawn sword… nevertheless Hashem did not want to nullify his will and said ‘if it displeases you, I will return’[6], as a protest to Hashem… and Hashem responded to him according to his will ‘Go with these men’[7].  It was all because of his choice, like our Rabbi’s of blessed memory said on this Torah portion ‘on the path a man wants to go, in that way he is lead’[8]…”[9]


A person wants something, he asks Hashem and Hashem says to him no.  He continues to want, and becomes wise, and hints to the messengers of Balak that they are not important enough for him, and with more enlightened and exalted messengers, perhaps then he would be allowed to come… he does not relax.  Until Hashem says to him- do you know what? You want so badly?! So go with it; please, whatever you want. Get up, and go with them.


What does this mean that Hashem agrees with him?  That this is the correct path? That he is going the right direction?  No. It means that this is a bad and mistaken path that leads to destruction.   Then why does Hashem let him go?  Why does Hashem say to him “If these men have come to call for you, arise and go with them”[10]? He should forbid it with a serious prohibition.  He should not be able to go.  He should make an earthquake or a Tsunami.  He should explode the walking trails to Moab and its entire infrastructure.  He should make a flood.  He should mix up their language.   He should block him from going!  Why does he let him walk in this destructive path?  Not only does not he even exert against him an opposing force, he even says to him: “Ok, you can go,” why?  Says Rebbe Natan:”Because this is an important fundamental rule that the entire world was created for choice.  Therefore choice has a very big power.  The principle part of the power of choice is by means of Hashem hiding and concealing his will with great concealment…”[11]  This world is called “Olam” from the language of concealment and forgetfulness.  There is an idea that the will of Hashem is hidden, there is an idea that the Satan will succeed and make us forget the reality of Hashem.  There is an idea like this.  So we will be able to choose.   So we won’t be like puppets.  So we won’t be forced.  So we don’t have only one path, rather a few paths, and that we choose life.

When we think about this deeply, we are shocked. As long as we are speaking about the evil Bilam and his choices, we can look at this from the side and become angry at his inflexibility and his horrifying impurity, however when it comes close to us and touches our choices, it begins to stress us out.  Think about this; this is really dangerous!  Correct, I want good.  But what if I make mistakes and lose my direction?  I am only a man in a world of concealment, with an evil inclination and desires and an enormous power of choice, and even without the power of prophecy that rested upon Bilam!  In the direction I want to go, I will be lead?! What does that mean I will be lead? It means that there is a path I am supposed to go on, and I suddenly chose to turn left to the bad side, they don’t place a barrier and puncture my tires, and they don’t turn off my headlights and put down axes with the command “stop”.  Rather they pave the roads for me and alternate roads and they exchange for me my Subaru with a Jeep and a full tank of gas and a good engine, which will take me on my way.  They help me on this path!  I am lead on my mistaken path that I chose!


Is there advice to be saved and to remain with the good?  This question takes us back to personal prayer which Bilam relates to with curses that are turned into blessings:  “it is a nation that will dwell alone” (Bamidbar Chapter 23, Verse 9)- a nation that has personal prayer.  A nation that for an hour a day separates from the ways of the world and turns a back to the race and to the interests that trick us; and speaks to Hashem.  Personal prayer is our place to speak about our true desires.  To tell about the forces that pull us toward the bad, about the difficulties, about the evil inclination and his soldiers that portray to us black as light and pleasant.  To request our true good, that after everything and before everything- only this we want.  Master of the world, more than everything, more than ice cream and money, more than success and honor, I want you the most in this world.  I yearn for you.  I long for you; to come close to you and to serve you alone.  This is my true will, creator of the world; this and nothing else.  So please, only guide me there.  Only make this path clear to me, and when I look for you- answer me.  When I am mistaken- return me to you.

If I want and speak about my will, over and over again multiplied exponentially, then it is clear that I will receive the abundance of Hashem, even through a change of nature.  About this said our Rabbis of blessed memory:  ‘Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except for fear of heaven’[12]– that all of the prayers that a man prays, they are given into the hands of Heaven to receive them or not, but a man who prays for fear of Heaven; to merit to know the path that he should go, then for sure his prayers will be received and he will merit the revelation of Hashem!!

[1] Rebbe Natan’s explanation of the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), based upon Rebbe Nachman’s teachings

[2] Numbers

[3] Likutei Halachot et al

[4]King of Moab, son of Zippor

[5] Bamidbar et al, Verse 20

[6] Bamidbar et al, Verse 34

[7] Bamidbar et al, Verse 35

[8] Gemara Makot Page 72

[9] Lekutei Halachot et al

[10] Bamidbar et al, Verse 20

[11] Lekutei Halachot et al

[12] Gemara Brachot 33:72

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