Eye Eye Sir

To diagnose a problem, doctors, mechanics, and IT techs search for the root of the problem. While the symptoms help the diagnostician search for the source, in order to clear up current and future problems, the root of the matter must be discovered and treated.

In Parshat Balak we meet the horrible villain, Balaam, who is hired to curse us. If it weren't so evil, it would be funny to see his foiled attempts to curse Israel throughout the Parsha. The question is, why would he want to do such a thing? Where does his antisemitic hatred stem from? 

If one does a comparative textual study between this Parsha and Parshat Vayera in Genesis, there are several similarities. There are parallels between our father Avraham and the Sorcerer Balaam. Both are prophets of G-d, both are respected by their surrounding neighbors, both saddle a donkey to travel to fulfill G-d’s will, and both encounter an enemy. Balaam encounters Israel, and Avraham encounters Sodom and Gomorrah. However, while Balaam tries with all his might to curse and destroy Israel, Avraham actually prays with all his heart that Sodom and Gomorrah are not destroyed. Their approaches couldn’t be more antithetical to one another. Why?

The answer is found in the Mishna in Avot 5:9.

כָּל מִי שֶׁיֵּשׁ בְּיָדוֹ שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים הַלָּלוּ, מִתַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ. וּשְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים אֲחֵרִים, מִתַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל בִּלְעָם הָרָשָׁע. עַיִן טוֹבָה, וְרוּחַ נְמוּכָה, וְנֶפֶשׁ שְׁפָלָה, מִתַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ. עַיִן רָעָה, וְרוּחַ גְּבוֹהָה, וְנֶפֶשׁ רְחָבָה, מִתַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל בִּלְעָם הָרָשָׁע. מַה בֵּין תַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ לְתַלְמִידָיו שֶׁל בִּלְעָם הָרָשָׁע.

 Whoever possesses these three things, he is of the disciples of Abraham, our father; and whoever possesses three other things, he is of the disciples of Balaam, the wicked. A good eye, a humble spirit and a moderate appetite he is of the disciples of Abraham, our father. An evil eye, a haughty spirit and a limitless appetite he is of the disciples of Balaam, the wicked.

It seems the number one item on the list that distinguishes a person of blessing versus a person of curses is a “Good Eye.” A “Good Eye” means that you see the positive in both people and situations and the potentials therein. Balaam views the world and its inhabitants as a threat to him – and his position in life. Whereas Avraham views the world and its inhabitants as a blessing to behold and therefore engages with the world around him.

Having a “Good Eye” does not mean seeing the world through rose-colored glasses or failing to see that there are bad things in this world. In his lifetime, Avraham went to war, dealt with abductors, and experienced family strife. However, he did so with a “Good Eye.” Balaam, on the other hand, chose to view the world through a negative lens despite being granted the gift of prophecy, wealth, and prestige.

There is so much potential for good, if we only look for it and do our part to see it emerge.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence