18 Tishrei 5782 / Friday, September 24, 2021 | Torah Reading: Sukkot
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Balak: The Power to Choose    

Balak: The Power to Choose

“Choice is in a person’s hand, if he wants to do something, he does it, and if he doesn’t then he doesn’t do it.” – Rebbe Nachman


Balak, the king of Moav, was afraid of the Jewish people, who were approaching the boundary of his kingdom on their journey to the Land of Israel. He sought someone who had the power to curse the Jewish people, so he sent messengers to Bilaam, a prophet of the gentile nations. “He sent messengers to Bilaam son of Beor of Pethor, which is by the river of the land of the members of his people, to summon him, saying, ‘Behold! A people has come out of Egypt, behold! It has covered the surface of the earth and it sits opposite me. So now - please come and curse this people for me, for it is too powerful for me…” (Chapter 22, Verses 5-6). 


Rabbi Natan of Breslev teaches that we can learn an important lesson about the power of choice based on the story of Bilaam’s attempts to curse the Jewish nation. Hashem gave humans so much power and potential in our ability to choose to the point that a person has the power to drawn down holiness from above, or the opposite, God forbid. Therefore, even a person who is very far from holiness can obtain a level of spiritual vision (which is called ruach hakodesh), because the power of choice and a person’s ability to focus on a thought and desire are very great. Bilaam was a wicked person steeped in sin and impurity. Nevertheless, he was able to obtain a level of spiritual vision until he became known as a prophet of the gentile nations in the region.  


Consequently, as long as a person sees in himself that he’s still far from being as holy as he can be, he needs to be very careful to humble himself before Hashem and the Torah, and not to seek greatness and spiritual visions which are beyond his level. He should just walk in simplicity and ask Hashem to help him leave his low level and become holier. He should use his amazing power of choice only for this purpose, and his only intention should be to be able to subdue his Evil Inclination completely, in order to truly serve Hashem.  


This is the opposite approach that Bilaam and his followers took. They were very strong in their desire to hold onto their wickedness and impurity. By obtaining high spiritual levels while staying impure, they wanted to help evil overcome good. Just like we learned last week about the power of speech, Rabbi Natan concludes here also regarding this powerful lesson from the story of Bilaam that the main principle is to know that we have a lot of power in our speech to express our choice to serve Hashem and return to Hashem (Likutei Halachot, Laws of the New Grain, 4th teaching). 


Rabbi Natan also explains another very important principle that the Sages teach from the saga of Bilaam and his repeated attempts to curse the Jewish nation - the way that a person wants to walk, that is the way they will be led from Heaven. This means that the way we want to live our life and the goals we set to achieve for ourselves directly influences our path in life, since our desires and goals set the path that we are then led on. This is the main aspect of our ability to choose (Likutei Halachot, the Laws of Impure Wine, 4th teaching). 


Rabbi Natan tells that somebody once asked Rebbe Nachman how does free choice work?  Rebbe  Nachman  answered  him  simply:  Choice is in a person’s hand, if he wants to do something, he does it, and if he doesn’t then he doesn’t do it.” Rabbi Natan adds: I wrote this down for myself, because these words are very important. There are some people who are very confused about this subject, due to the fact that they have had the same behaviors and actions since they were young, and therefore it seems to them that they don’t have a choice to change their actions, God forbid. However truthfully this is not the case, because certainly every person always has a choice regarding every matter in their life, and what he wants he does. Rabbi Natan concludes, you should understand these words very well (Likutei Moharan, 110th teaching, Part 2). Rebbe Nachman also teaches in Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom that everything you see in the world is there only for our choice and to challenge us, since this is the reason that Hashem created the world (#300). 


We can put together the story of Bilaam with these teachings. The fact that he chose to seek spiritual levels while holding strongly to his wicked ways is an important lesson about the choices we make every day in our lives. Rebbe Nachman stated above that we really do have the power to choose everything we do, in every area of life. Sometimes we mistakenly think to ourselves, “what can I do, this is who I am. Or, I’ve been stuck in this sin or bad habit for twenty years, I will never succeed to change!” or “There’s no way out of this situation.” The truth is that if we really want to change, we have the power to make a better choice in every part of our life!  


The environment and the surroundings in which we find ourselves have an influence on us, either for the good or the opposite. In Hebrew the word atmosphere comes from the word air. When we breathe in the air of a place, we are also breathing in the atmosphere and the influences of that place. Therefore, we need to try to be constantly aware of how we are feeling and how our surroundings are influencing us, in order to try to choose good in that moment. If we feel fear for example, we can choose in that moment to take a deep breath and turn to Hashem in prayer to help us face our fear and really feel know that He is with us; or we can choose to act in a negative manner because we feel fear.  


In every moment we have the power to choose. 



Republished with permission from breslov.blog. 




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