Photo Credit: Jewish Press

In this week’s parsha we read about Bilam harashah. In Yigdal we say Lo Kam b’Yisrael k’Moshe Od, there will never be another navi like Moshe again among the Jewish people. The medrash explains that while Moshe was unique among Bnei Yisrael, there would be a navi as great as Moshe outside of Klal Yisrael, namely, Bilam. This medrash implies that Bilam’s prophecy was equivalent to that of Moshe’s.

Rashi brings a medrash which explains why the non-Jewish nations were given such a powerful navi. If there wasn’t a non-Jewish navi like Moshe, the nations of the world would have had an excuse to explain away their behavior. They would have justified their evil by saying, “If we had a navi like Moshe we would have been good!” Therefore, Rashi explains, Hashem gave them Bilam to show that even with a navi they would still do evil.

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The question on this medrash is clear to see. It’s all well and good that Bilam had a great power of prophecy, however, he was still a wicked person. The complaint of the other nations seems to remain. We had the evil Bilam as a leader while the Jews had the greatest tzaddik. If our leader was righteous we wouldn’t have sinned. How does Bilam’s greatness as a prophet remove this justification?

To understand who Bilam was let us examine the interaction between Bilam and his donkey in this week’s parsha. While riding on his donkey to curse the Jewish people, Bilam was stopped three times by a malach. Only his donkey perceived the angel that was blocking the road. To avoid the angel, the donkey first veered off the road. In the second encounter, the donkey crushed Bilam’s leg against a wall to avoid the angel. In the third meeting, the donkey had nowhere to go and stopped in the middle of the road. Each time the donkey changed his path Bilam hit it.

After the third beating, a great miracle occurred. Hashem allowed the donkey to speak to Bilam. The donkey asked, “Why have you hit me these three times?” In Lashon Hakodesh the donkey says shalosh regalim to describe the three times Bilam hit him. Usually the word used for three times would be shalom zemanim. The reason for this change in language is explained by Rashi. The donkey was saying, “You, Bilam, won’t succeed in your plans to curse the nation which keeps the great mitzvah of shalosh regalim.” What possible connection is there between Bilam’s desire to curse Klal Yisrael and the mitzvah of visiting the Beit Hamikdash on the yomim tovim of Pesach, Sukkot, and Shavuot?

Before explaining the donkey’s use of the term shalosh regalim, we need to ask an even more basic question. Why do we describe the yomim tovim as the shalosh regalim? On the simple level this refers to the fact that on each yom tov the Jews traveled to the Beit Hamikdash. The word regel means foot which implies movement or journeying. Our feet are the symbol of our movement. There is also a second way to view the traveling which was inherent in the mitzvah of being oleh laregel, visiting the Beit Hamikdash. The trip wasn’t supposed to be just a physical one. Rather, the physical journey is supposed to be mimicked by a similar spiritual one. Each yom tov is an opportunity for growth as a Jew and as a chance to move closer to Hashem. By calling each yom tov a regel, the Torah is hinting to the potential of growth that is an inherent part of all the yomim tovim. Each yom tov has a unique opportunity for us to grow and elevate ourselves, therefore, each yom tov is a regel, a journey.

The Gemara in Makkot says that Hashem allows each person to go in the path he chooses, b’derech she’adam laylaych ba molichim otah. The Gemara says that the prime example in the Torah of this idea is Bilam. When Bilam first asks Hashem if he should go to Midyan, Hashem says no. Bilam is indefatigable and asks Hashem a second time. This time, Hashem allows Bilam to go. In truth, Hashem had already told Bilam he shouldn’t go. However, since Bilam persisted in asking, Hashem let him choose his own path. The path Bilam chose would lead to his destruction, but that was his choice. If the nations of the world would complain about not being given a chance to do the right thing, Hashem would show them Bilam. The reason why the nations and Bilam sinned is not because they didn’t have the same opportunity as Klal Yisrael. Rather, their evil was a path that they chose despite having the potential to control their desires and to do the right thing.

Hashem tried to stop Bilam three times from choosing the path of evil. Each time Bilam insisted on continuing down the road to sin. The donkey told Bilam, “You are journeying in a destructive manner. How can you possibly hope to defeat the Jewish people who are journeying in the way of earnest growth?”

The lesson for us is powerful. Life is a journey which is defined by a series of choices we make. Potential is never going to be the only way to determine what we will be. More important are the choices we make. Bilam’s potential was unlimited, and yet he failed to achieve even a drop of his abilities due to his poor choices. Bnei Yisrael are constantly growing and looking to go on the path of Hashem. Each regel, and each day is another opportunity to improve. We each have the greatest potential as a member of the am hanivchar. Let us walk, jog, and run ever closer to Hashem

May we be zoche to always grow and accomplish, and may we be zoche to realize our true potential.

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Rabbi Shlomo Rosenblatt gives a daily daf yomi shiur and has been a rebbi at Yeshiva Derech HaTorah for 15 years. His talmidim and alumni are the inspiration for his divrei Torah; there is no better way to stay connected than through Torah.