Hashem said to Bilaam, “you shall not go with them. You shall not curse the nation because they are blessed.” (Bamidbar 21:12)
You thought he would have given up, didn’t you? Balak sends messengers to Bilaam to curse the Jews. Hashem comes to Bilaam and says don’t go. Balak then sends more messengers and again Hashem comes to Bilaam. This time Hashem says that Bilaam could go, but all of his words would be controlled by G-d. Bilaam decides to go anyway.
Bilaam rose early in the morning and started riding his donkey. Bilaam’s donkey stops three times. Suddenly, the donkey speaks (the only time this has happened in the history of the world… at least when someone was sober). Bilaam sees an angel and the angel warns him that if he continues to try to curse the Jews, he will be unsuccessful. Any word he tries to say will be controlled by G-d. Bilaam continues.
Bilaam tries three times to curse the Jews and, of course, was unsuccessful each time. What was he thinking? G-d came to him and said he would be unsuccessful. An angel told him it wasn’t even worth trying. After the first time, he realized that he had no chance. But he still did it two more times! What is wrong with Bilaam?
Well, Bilaam clearly did not think straightly. But there is a message we can learn from Bilaam: this should be our behavior when we perform mitzvos. Even when something seems hopeless, we should still continue to do what we have been commanded. Let me explain with a story.
Jakob was a Jewish tailor and he was so good that one of his customers was the Duke of his township. One week on Shabbos morning, the Duke’s messengers came to Jakob and told him he needed to come to the Duke’s palace immediately to make him a garment. He would be greatly rewarded with a large sum of money. Jakob said he could not desecrate Shabbos and did not go.
A short time later, the messengers returned offering him more money. He still said no. They returned and offered him an extremely large sum of money that would have provided enough income for his family for a long time, but he still said no. Finally, the messengers returned and said that if he did not come immediately, the Duke would give his business to another tailor. Also, he would make sure that no one used Jakob anymore and he would go out of business. Jakob still replied, “I cannot desecrate Shabbos.”
Immediately after Shabbos was over, he ran to the Duke’s palace to ask for mercy. The Duke smiled and gave Jakob a large sum of money. The Duke explained that a visiting Duke came by and when he heard of Jakob’s Shabbos observance, he said it was impossible. The visiting Duke said that no one would risk their business for a religious observance, so they made a large bet with each other. Jakob’s Duke won and rewarded Jakob nicely for his strict observance.
Bilaam refused to give up even though things looked impossible for him. So too when we perform the mitzvos, we should not give up even when things seem impossible. Sometimes we get a great reward in this world, like Jakob. Other times, the reward is saved for the World to Come. But if we perform mitzvos like Bilaam performed sins, we are guaranteed we will get a beautiful reward.
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