Parashas Balak

This week’s parashah relates how Balak, king of Moab, hired the sorcerer Bilaam to curse the Jewish People, and how Hashem caused Bilaam to bless them instead. The end of the parashah describes how (at Bilaam’s suggestion, see Sanhedrin 106a) the Moabite women subsequently lured the Jews into immorality. The Midrash comments (Bamidbar Rabbah 21:4): “Someone who induces a person to sin is worse than someone who kills him.” We can easily understand this statement in the context of inducing a person to commit the grievous sin of immorality. However, the Maggid teaches that this principle applies also to lesser sins. This teaching appears in Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaSinah, chapter 11, as part of a discussion about reacting to insults. This discussion is very enlightening in its own right, and so I present a summary of the discussion here, including the teaching just mentioned.
The Maggid says that there are strong reasons that lead a person to react to an insult by keeping silent. He lists seven reasons, as follows:
1. Pride, which leads a person to feel that it is beneath his dignity respond to the insult.
2. Wisdom, which leads a person to understand that silence is the best way to take revenge against the offender and preserve his honor among his fellow men. A response of silence and a show of disregard for the insult pain the offender more than any other response. In addition, the onlookers will respect the offended party for showing restraint.
3. A desire for reward, including the reward Hashem grants a person who reacts to an insult with silence. In Chullin 89a, quoting Iyov’s description of how Hashem “suspends the earth on nothingness (בלי מה),” the Gemara teaches that the world is supported by people who restrain (בולם) themselves a time of contention. Likewise, the Gemara in Shabbos 88b praises those who do not respond to insults.
4. Fear of God, which leads a person to understand that it behooves him to act with restraint in Hashem’s presence, just as he would act with restraint in the presence of an earthly king.
5. Humility, which leads a person to feel no need to defend his honor.
6. Faith, i.e., an understanding that everything that happens to a person comes from Hashem. Since the person who insulted him was just serving as Hashem’s agent, it is out of place to get angry at him.
7. An understanding of the transience of this world. Since this world is only a way station and not a person’s true home, the insult is inconsequential. Moreover, life in this world is short and a person has much to accomplish, so it is not worth wasting time responding to insults.
The Maggid then goes on to say that if we are not spiritually great enough to keep silent for the loftier reasons, we should at least keep silent for the more pragmatic reasons, and take this as a starting point toward rising to the loftier levels. We should restrain our mouths and avoid getting into arguments. Certainly we should not provoke an argument or insult anyone. If we do so, the other person may get angry and respond with improper words. We will then have caused him to sin, which, as the Midrash says, is worse than killing him.
We should strive to speak to others calmly and gently. Borrowing a phrase from Yeshayah 29:4, we can say that we should think imagine ourselves speaking from beneath the ground before the other person. And if one of us is insulted by another person and gets angry, he should nonetheless respond calmly and in a pleasant tone of voice. As Shlomo HaMelech says (Mishlei 15:1): “A gentle reply turns away anger.” If we conduct ourselves this way, we will be regarded with favor by Hashem and by other men, for nothing is more pleasant to a listener than words spoken calmly and gently. Furthermore, we bring blessing to the Jewish People. We should keep our speech calm and gentle until we reach, with Hashem’s help, the state of true humility. And then we will attain immense reward – Hashem will bestow upon us, from his hidden storehouse, blessing beyond our imagination.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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