Balak, the king of Moav, was afraid of the Jewish people, who were approaching the boundary of his kingdom on their journey to Eretz Yisrael. He sought someone who had the power to curse the Jewish people, and he sent messengers to Bilam, a prophet of the gentile nations. “He sent messengers to Bilam son of Beor of Pethor, which is by the river of the land of the members of his people, to summon him, saying, ‘Behold! A people has come out of Egypt, behold! It has covered the surface of the earth and it sits opposite me. So now- please come and curse this people for me, for it is too powerful for me…” (Chapter 22, Verses 5-6)
Reb Noson teaches that we can learn an important lesson about the power of choice based on the story of Bilam’s attempts to curse the Jewish nation. Hashem gave us so much power and potential in our ability to choose to the point that a person has the power to drawn down holiness from above, or the opposite, God forbid. Therefore, even a person who is very far from holiness can obtain a level of spiritual vision (which is called רוח הקודש), because the power of choice and a person’s ability to focus on a thought and desire are very great. Bilam was a wicked person steeped in sin and impurity, nevertheless he was able to obtain a level of spiritual vision until he became known as a prophet of the gentile nations in the region. Consequently, as long as a person sees in himself that he’s still far from being as holy as he can be, he needs to be very careful humble himself before Hashem and the Torah, and not to seek greatness and spiritual visions which are beyond his level. He should just walk in simplicity and ask Hashem to help him leave his low level and to become holier. He should use his amazing power of choice only for this purpose, and his only intention should be to merit to subdue his evil inclination completely, in order to truly serve Hashem. This is the opposite approach to Bilam and his followers, who were very strong in their desire to hold onto their wickedness and impurity. By obtaining high spiritual levels, while staying impure, they wanted to help evil overcome good. Just like we learned last week about the power of speech, Reb Noson concludes here also regarding this powerful lesson from the story of Bilam that the main principle is to know that we have a lot of power in our speech to express our choice to serve Hashem and to return to Hashem. (Likutei Halachot, Laws of the New Grain, 4th teaching) Reb Noson adds in another teaching that we learn from the Sages a major principle- the way that a person wants to walk, meaning the way that they want to live their life and the goals which they set for themselves, that is the way they will be led from Heaven. This is the main aspect of our ability to choose. (Likutei Halachot, the Laws of Impure Wine, 4th teaching)
Reb Noson tells in Likutei Moharan that somebody once asked Rebbe Nachman how does free choice work? He answered him simply: Choice is in a person’s hand, if he wants to do something he does it, and if he doesn’t then he doesn’t do it. Reb Noson adds: I wrote this down for myself, because these words are very important. There are some people who are very confused about this subject, due to the fact that they have had the same behaviors and actions since they were young, and therefore it seems to them that they don’t have a choice to change their actions, God forbid. However truthfully this is not the case, because certainly every person always has a choice regarding every matter in their life, and what he wants he does. Reb Noson concludes, you should understand these words very well. (Likutei Moharan, 110th teaching, Part 2) Rebbe Nachman also says in Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom that everything you see in the world is there only for our choice and to challenge us, this is the reason that Hashem created the world. (300th teaching)
We can learn from this teaching about the story of Bilam and how he chose to seek spiritual levels while holding strongly to his wicked ways an important lesson about the choices we make every day in our lives. Rebbe Nachman stated above that we have the power to choose in everything and every area of life; nevertheless a person can mistakenly think, ‘what can I do, this is who I am.’ Or, ‘I’ve been stuck in this sin or bad habit for twenty years, how can I ever make a change!’ ‘There’s no way out of this situation.’ Truly though, if we really want to change, we have the power to make a better choice in every part of our life!
I’ve mentioned before in these parsha teachings that I’ve been learning this year a book as well as a workshop about breathing and its spiritual and physical healing qualities. The teacher, Doron, taught us that the environment and the surroundings which we find ourselves in have an influence on us, whether for the good or the opposite. In Hebrew the word atmosphere comes from the word air. When we breathe in the air of a place, we are also breathing in the atmosphere and the influences of that place. Therefore in every moment of our day we should to try to have awareness of how we are feeling and how our surroundings are influencing us, in order to try to choose good in that moment. If we feel fear for example, we can choose in that moment to take a deep breath and turn to Hashem in prayer to help us face our fear and to know that he is with us; or we can choose to act in a negative manner because we feel fear. In every moment we have the power to choose.
(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)