Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing

Parshas Balak

In Pirkei Avos (Chapter 5) we find contrasts between the students of Avrohom and the students of Balaam. Three traits define their difference:

Avrohom’s students Balaam’s students
  1   A generous eye An evil eye
  2   Modest demeanor Haughty demeanor
  3   Satisfied soul Lustful soul

The Mishna continues: What is the distinction between those who walk in Avrohom’s way and those who pursue Balaam’s path? Avrohom’s students enjoy this world, and inherit the world to come, whilst Balaam’s inherit Geihinom and descend into the pit of destruction.

Question

“What is the distinction between those and those” The Mishna begins by highlighting three deviations in the attributes of Avrohom’s students from Balaam’s, why then does the Mishna continue to question how these two schools differ? Is it not obvious that these three traits vary? Why is the Tanna questioning a disparity that seems readily apparent?

Answer

Two people may perform an identical act in the same situation, and yet one can be classed a “student of Avrohom” and the other “a student of Balaam”. The only difference is that the first benefits in this world and the next, and the other reaps Geihinom. There is no outward indication of their disparity. The intention and motive in the act is what sets them apart.

The following stories will illustrate these ideas:

A Chassidic Rebbe once spent Shabbos with his talmidim in the home of a rich man. When the cholent was served their host gave the Rebbe the honor of being served first. The Rebbe took one spoonful of his cholent, and pulled the serving bowl towards himself. He continued to eat, finishing his own portion and the entire contents of the serving bowl – before anyone else had been served. His students watched the unaccustomed gluttony of their rebbe in wonder.

“This cholent is delicious,” the Rebbe commented.” Is there any more in the kitchen?” The host, though surprised at this greed, in one so refined,hastened to bring out whatever was left in the pot, and the Rebbe finished that off too!

Later, the students asked the Rebbe why he had acted in such an unusual manner.

“When I first tasted the cholent, I realized that someone had accidentally poured in kerosene instead of cooking oil. I knew how embarrassed our hostess would be by this, and suspected she would ill treat the cook as a result. I ate all the cholent so the mistake would not be discovered.” The unusual excess and gluttony of the Rebbe was in fact a caring act, saving another from humiliation.

The Gemora describes a conversation between Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yosi and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, regarding the Roman government. Rabbi Yehuda said “Look how wonderful Roman civilization is for us! They have made city centers, spas, and bridges.”

Rabbi Yosi remained silent on this point,but Rabbi Shimon disagreed. “This government is not so great. They are just watching for their own gain. They build city centers for prostitution, they build spas to beautify themselves, and they construct bridges to levee taxes on them.” They were discussing the same actions, from differing points of view. And whose view was correct?

When Rome (Western civilization) will come before Hashem to be judged, He will ask them: “What have you been busy with? What have you accomplished?”

Rome will reply, “We have furthered the study of Torah. We have done this by building city centers and spas and by amassing gold and silver. All this we have done to enable the Jewish people to learn Torah.”

“You fools!” Hashem will reply. “Those activities were only for your own gain, for your own enjoyments. You built city centers to make brothels available. You built spas to beautify yourselves. The gold and silver you collected are Mine. Do any of your nation even learn Torah!?!” And Rome will depart, downcast.

Lesson

We can act with an eye for our own gain or our own honor, following in Balaam’s footsteps. Or we can infuse these very same actions with humility, modesty,and thoughts of glorifying Hashem. The choice is ours – let us choose to be a student of Avrohom.

Halachah

A flower pot is Muktzeh, whether or not it is perforated at the base, and should not be moved on Shabbos or Yom Tov.

2 Comments

  1. Wow, a practical halacha too! Thank you!
    If I may, just to add to what you were saying, we translate the word Midda as a character trait OR as a measurement, and indeed there is no good or bad character trait as such, everything has its time and application, it depends on the ‘measurements’, why, when and how!
    Good shabbos.

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