“So spoke, he who hears the words of G-d, and knows the knowledge of the Supreme One”
“Those who have the attributes of a good eye, a humble spirit, and a meek soul are of the disciples of Avraham Avinu. Those who have the attributes of an evil eye, an arrogant spirit, and a greedy soul are among the disciples of Bilaam the rasha. Avraham’s disciples eat in this world and inherit the World to Come. Bilaam’s disciples inherit Gehinnom and descend to the pit of destruction. ” (Avos 5:19).
One who truly recognizes his Creator cannot have the audacity to fight against the power of kedushah within him. Therefore, it’s completely bewildering how someone like Bilaam, whose prophecy was equated to that of Moshe Rabbeinu, was drawn after petty things such as money, false honor, and base desires.
In the above mishnah in Avos we see the secret to Bilaam’s downfall: envy, desire, and honor. In essence, these middos are intrinsically permissible. Envy of another’s scholarship is a desirable trait, and involvement in matters of money, prestige, and worldly pleasure is permitted by the Torah. So what went wrong with Bilaam?
I have a good friend whom I admire very much. She once admitted to me openly, “I have one weakness. I am prepared to forgo many things, but I want my children to be dressed well.” I doubt she ever stepped foot into a standard department store.
I have a sister-in-law who invests a good deal of energy into preparing elaborate meals. (I, on the other hand, plan on publishing a bestseller cookbook entitled Everything in One Bowl, One Spoon, and One Cup.) She’s a true gourmet chef, and whenever we’re invited for a meal, I know we’ll be in for a feast.
I also have a cousin who is artistic and has spent a lot of time decorating the walls of her house, matching linens to lampshades, and has even made a decorative door stopper in the shape of a mouse.…
I too have my own puny desires: how much money I’d like to make, the extra job I want to take, and even my coffee at the end of a long workday.
Are all these things wrong? Are they forbidden?
The rule is as follows: The mere deed is not forbidden; only the desire and craving for it are prohibited. The accumulation of money and property in a kosher way is permissible as long as it’s not accompanied by desire. It’s acceptable to derive benefit from this world, but not to crave it. Yet one may ask: If the thing itself is permissible, why should it be forbidden to crave it? Why is the desire itself detrimental? (ibid[DP1] .)
There’s nothing wrong with baking fancy cakes. There’s nothing wrong with dressing children tastefully. And there’s nothing wrong with drinking a cappuccino.
But where do our desires lie? What preoccupies our thoughts and shapes our path in life? What are our goals?
The actions are permissible as long as they are the horse that carries us forward. But if the horse turns around and becomes the driver — if the pleasure itself becomes the goal — then we’ve become like the wicked Bilaam.
Even if fame and fortune are permissible, how can a person who longs to come close to Hashem, crave such trivial aspirations?
If a person recognizes Hashem’s existence and the grand spiritual heights a human being can reach, then there’s no room in his ambitions for anything other than yearning to become closer to Hashem.
The disciples of Avraham Avinu enjoy this world and inherit the World to Come because their thoughts are focused exclusively on the World to Come. Their happiness in this world is because of the lack of desire for extraneous things. The followers of Bilaam will never find satisfaction; they are always seeking more pleasure and feel that they haven’t achieved anything yet. (ibid[DP2] .)
So my friend enjoys shopping. Yet I know that her heart’s desire is her children’s success in their limud Torah. My sister-in-law enjoys cooking. Yet her wish is to use that talent to host guests and make meals for those who need it.
And I … I’m permitted to enjoy my coffee. And then use that moment of respite to rejuvenate myself to serve Hashem.