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Thought for the Day: From Bilaam ha'Rasha to Moshe Rabeinu

When I first started to learn sefer Chafeitz Chaim, I found that there was another sefer at the end: Sh'miras ha'Lashon.  It turns out that sefer Chafeitz Chaim is the halachos related to lashon ha'rah, and sefer Sh'miras ha'Lashon is the mussar about how bad it is to say lashon ha'rah.  Since I was starting from zero, I wondered which to learn first.  Fortunately for me, I had a rabbi who told me that when it comes to s'farim, it is always important to learn the introduction first.  Even more fortunately, the introduction to sefer Chafeitz Chaim addresses my precise question.  He answers firmly that one must learn halachos first and mussar second.  It doesn't matter at all how motivated you are to do the right thing if you don't know how to do the right thing.  (On the other hand, if you have no thought to actually do the right thing, it might be worth spending a bit of time on that so you'll actually pay attention to the halachos.)

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to do both, and even in the right order.  As I already reported, I first went to R' Fuerst's halacha shiur.  I then had the z'chus to attend a siyum commemorating the shloshim for Mrs. Cherrick, Udi bas Moshe Chaim ha'Cohein.  I have rarely felt so inspired as I did after that morning of learning first more details about what a Jew needs to do, followed by a lesson in how to actually function as a  Jew.  There were a few speakers (very few, at the request of the nifteress), but I would like to focus on a few things I heard from R' Moshe Soloveitchik.

First, R' Moshe said, in the name of his father that the difference between the hespeidim at a l'vaya and at shloshim, is that at a l'vaya the intent is to talk about the person, while at a shloshim the purpose is to learn from the person's life.  As we are in parashas Balack, R' Moshe used an explanation of the difference between Moshe Rabeinu and Bilaam ha'Rasha to highlight what made Mrs. Cherrick, z"tzl, such an important  role model.

Chazal tell us that Bilaam was in some sense as great a navi as Moshe Rabeinu; the intent being to take away any excuse from the umos ha'olam that they would have been just as good as Klal Yisrael if only they had navi like Moshe Rabeinu.  So what was the difference?  Bilaam took the communication from HaShem and reported as a post man would.  Or, to be more up to date, Bilaam wrote his own email and then added d'var HaShem as an attachment.  Moshe Rabeinu, on the other hand, worked on himself to become a messenger.  Moshe Rabeinu didn't use an attachment at all; Moshe Rabeinu worked on himself until the emails he wrote didn't look any different than the message he had received.  Both delivered pure, unadulterated d'var HaShem.  Bilaam did it by passing on the message exactly as received, without even looking at it.  Moshe did it by completely rebuilding himself to the point that he never said anything that wasn't d'var HaShem.

One is born neither a tzadik nor a rasha.  HaShem offers communication to all.  The budding rasha looks to see how he can profit from that communication.  The budding tzadik looks to see how he can change to become a prophet from that communication.


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