Although this week’s Torah portion is named “Balak” after the Moabite king who initiated the dramatic incidents recorded in it, the story itself really belongs to Bilaam, the prophet Balak hired to curse the Jews and destroy them.
The special weight attached to Bilaam’s words can be traced back to Bilaam’s exalted status as a prophet; his level of prophecy is considered to be on par with Moses’ own in some sense.
Bilaam is compared to Moses because they both managed to connect with God on the highest level but that does not mean they connected in the same fashion. God specifically told Moses to avoid connecting with Him while His anger was on display, while Bilaam was the only person in human history capable of identifying the exact moment of God’s anger, and it was this angry aspect of God that he was a specialist in connecting with. Is there any way we can understand the idea of connecting with God’s anger a bit more clearly?
The truth is that although we do not realize it, we are all quite familiar with the idea of connecting with God through the power of anger.
Most of us have had the following common spiritual experience. Some traumatic event in our lives causes us to wonder: ‘why is this happening to me’, and leads us to introspection. Our soul searching leads to the discovery that we are functioning far beneath the level of spirituality that we find acceptable; we suddenly become impatient and angry with ourselves.
Not everyone reacts in the same fashion to such an experience but some people convert the emotional energy of this spiritual impatience and anger into a firm resolution to disassociate from their present social framework and life-style entirely and institute drastic changes in their lives. Bilaam exemplifies the practice of connecting with God more through anger and frustration than any other way. Each time Bilaam searched for contact with the Divine presence, he left Balak and his associates standing over the sacrifice and went off by himself: “stand by your Burnt-offering while I go … He went alone” (Bamidbor 23:3:); Bilaam’s ability to connect with God was only present when he removed himself from others, when his frame of mind was bounded by anger and frustration to a great degree.
A totally different way to connect to God is to reach out through the power of love. The aim of this method is not to escape into a more spiritual realm. The aim is to insert spirituality and closeness to God into every aspect of everyday life. Thus, every activity is dedicated to God with the perception that God is present and watching, even participating by supplying the energy to complete the task at hand.
For the person who follows this path, separation from people is counterproductive to holiness. God created the world for people and gave each person a soul so that he or she can attach him/herself to God. The greater the number of human souls that choose to attach themselves, the more God’s presence is manifest in the world and the easier it becomes to attain holiness through the activities of everyday life. Attaching your soul to the soul of others engaged on the same quest enhances your spiritual powers. The highest level of prophetic vision is only available to someone who is a member of a unified loving social group.
Dedicating yourself to this method of connecting to God means dedicating yourself to the elimination of the distance between people to the same degree. The commandment “Love your fellow as you love yourself,” parallels the commandment “Love the Lord your God with all your heart.”
In Tune with Torah this week = to ask “How do I most connect with Hashem? Is it when I’m angry, frustrated, disappointed? or do I routinely connect with Him from a heart of overflowing love and an attitude of experiencing Him in community with others? The latter is much to be desired and may we all grow in its practice.