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Thought for the Day: Bilaam -- An Epic Tradgedy

I guy at the locker room was singing a couple of bars of "I feel pretty" from West Side Story.  (It's guy/locker room humor.  I don't why people say that girls mature faster than boys; men pretty much reach their emotional maturity by three years old -- long before women.)  I noted that West Side Story was basically Romeo and Juliet done right.  The best Shakespearean tragedies follow the tradition of classic Greek tragedies in which the hero/heroin start high on the wheel of fortune (sigh... no, not the game show) and are lead to fall to the ultimate low (death) by some small character defect.  The deaths in Romeo and Juliet are due to stupid accident (a lost message).  West Side Story fixes that an remains (in my book) a classic; telling an epic story beautifully and being the only musical drama.  (I am not counting opera as music.)

I think we tend to picture Bilaam as an amalgam of Rasputin, Charles Manson, and the Wicked Witch of the West; but not that friendly.  That is a mistake.  It is certainly true that Bilaam was arrogant, lusted for the pleasures of this world, and hated anyone else's successes.  However, that is all "l'fi madreigaso" -- according to his level.  Bilaam was a navi HaShem whose ability to have clarify into ratzon HaShem rivaled (and in some ways even surpassed) that of Moshe Rabeinu himself.  The Torah ha'K'dosha even allows Bilaam to refer to HaShem as "elokai" -- my G-d.  Even the avos ha'k'doshim did not have that privilege in their lifetime.  When you think Bilaam ha'Rasha, you should think Mother Theresa ha'Rash'ah or Bruce Wayne.

The medrash says that a king heard about Moshe Rabeinu and wanted to know what he looked like.  Lacking a Mishkan Cam, he sent a famous artist who was renowned for his ability to capture the very essence of a person on canvas.  (Yes, I good with the anachronism.)  The artist came back with a most hideous picture and the king wanted to have him executed.  First, though, he decided to travel himself to see Moshe Rabeinu.  He brought the painting and, after seeing the nearly divine countenance of Moshe Rabein, the king showed him the painting.  Moshe Rabeinu responded, "Yes; that's me."  When the king balked and said that he could see that the great Moshe Rabeinu was nothing like that hideous creature depicted on the canvas, Moshe Rabeinu replied simply and truthfully, "I have worked on myself."

Bilaam ha'Rasha did not work on himself; he lost everything and he even knew that at the end.  With all that, he never changed; and epic tragedy and calamitous loss.

None of use get to choose the midos that make up our character when we are born.  None of us gets to choose our situation in life.  We have but one choice, which then acts as the basis of every single choice we make -- big and small.

hakol b'y'dei shamayim -- absolutely everything is directly manipulated by HaShem; chutz mi'yiras shamayim -- save one thing only: are you willing to recognize that HaShem created you, or will you persist in acting as though you yourself are a god?  And, no; there is nothing in between.


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