Motzaei Shabbat, June 27, 2020

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The Torah in Parashat Balak tells the famous story of Bilam’s failed attempts to place a curse on Benei Yisrael.  Bilam was hired for this purpose by Balak, the king of Moav, who feared that Benei Yisrael might attack his nation and the entire region.  Three times Bilam endeavored to place a curse on Benei Yisrael, but each time, God compelled Bilam to utter a blessing, instead.
            This story is discussed by the Gemara, in a famous passage in Masekhet Berakhot (7a), where the Gemara notes Bilam’s description of himself as “yodei’a da’at Elyon” – a man who “knows the mind of the Supreme One” (24:16).  The Gemara explains this to mean that Bilam was able to determine the precise moment each day when the Almighty is angry.  During that period when Bilam sought to place a curse on Benei Yisrael, the Gemara teaches, God did not become angry at all, in order to protect Benei Yisrael from harm.  The Gemara explains on this basis the verse in Sefer Mikha (6:5), in the prophecy read as the haftara for Parashat Balak, imploring us to always remember the story of Bilam, how God foiled his plan and took away his ability to curse us.  We are to remember that God made a point of not becoming angry at all during that time, so that Bilam would be unsuccessful in his attempt to place a curse.
            The Gemara further emphasizes that the moment each day when God becomes angry is very brief.  In fact, the Gemara states, the moment lasts the amount of time it takes to say the two-syllable word “rega” – “moment.”  The Gemara cites as the basis of this startling teaching the verse in Sefer Tehillim (30:6), “Ki rega be-apo” – “His rage is just a ‘rega’.”
            It is likely that the Gemara here presents us with a fundamental perspective on the way the Almighty views the world.  Namely, He is generally happy with and proud of His creatures.  We might have assumed that God is disappointed with the world, and in a state of constant anger and rage over the state of mankind, over the many different forms of wrongdoing that occur at every moment.  But the Gemara here teaches us that to the contrary, God is generally pleased with the world He created.  He created human beings as complex creatures, and placed us in this difficult, complicated world, and He does not expect perfection.  Certainly, there is much to be angry at, and indeed, for a brief moment each day, He is angry.  But this anger hardly defines His overall outlook on the world and on mankind.  To the contrary, God is generally pleased with the word, despite our many flaws and imperfections.  It is only the “Bilams” who focus on and magnify mankind’s faults.  Evil people like Bilam look for the evil, they look to criticize and to disparage.  They search for the isolated “rega,” the small negative element, and define the whole on the basis of that element. 
            We are bidden to follow God’s example, and to minimize our “anger,” our negativity, to a “rega.”  In our assessment of people, of institutions, of ourselves, and of the world at large, we must not allow the negative element to define our perspective.  Of course, we should not and cannot ignore the negative element entirely.  We must know when to feel “anger,” how to identify wrongdoing so we can work towards improvement.  But we must ensure to reduce our anger and disappointment to but a brief “rega,” and learn from the Almighty’s example of how to feel gratified and pleased with imperfect realities.