The taste of Shabbat – Bilaam 5778
Rav Mordechai Elon
The Mishna is Avot teaches us:
כָּל מִי שֶׁיֵּשׁ בְּיָדוֹ שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים הַלָּלוּ, מִתַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ. וּשְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים אֲחֵרִים, מִתַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל בִּלְעָם הָרָשָׁע. עַיִן טוֹבָה, וְרוּחַ נְמוּכָה, וְנֶפֶשׁ שְׁפָלָה – מִתַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ. עַיִן רָעָה, וְרוּחַ גְּבוֹהָה, וְנֶפֶשׁ רְחָבָה – מִתַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל בִּלְעָם הָרָשָׁע…
Anyone who has these three things is from the students of Abraham, our father, and [anyone who has] three other things is from the students of Bilaam the evildoer: [one who has] a good eye, a humble spirit and a small appetite — is from the students of Abraham, our father. [One who has] an evil eye, a haughty spirit and a broad appetite – is from the students of Bilaam the evildoer.
Two of these character traits we find in our parsha:
למדנו שרוחו גבוהה, ולא רצה לגלות שהוא ברשותו של מקום, אלא בלשון גסות…
למדנו שנפשו רחבה, ומחמד ממון אחרים. אמר, ראוי לו ליתן לי כל כסף וזהב שלו.
This tells us that he was of a proud nature and he did not wish to divulge that he was under the control of the Omnipresent except in arrogant terms
This tells us that he was avaricious and covetous of other peoples wealth. He said: He ought to give me all his silver and gold, for, behold, he would otherwise have to hire many armies to fight against them.
The third characteristic "a bad eye" is obvious to the reader. There is no need to find a source, because this is the essence of Bilam. The question is why does the Torah teach us about this negative person with a bad character and huge ego? We know that Hashem wanted to give the nations a prophet, so that they will have no excuse for their behavior, but why one like this, that we know so much about his bad side? Later on we all also learn that he is cruel to animals, this isn’t a story for children!