Anger in His Eyes by Josh Lehman


In Parashat Balak, one of the characteristics displayed by Bil’am is his “Da’at Elyon,” “knowledge of Hashem” (BeMidbar 24:16), and he is said to have known things about HaKadosh Baruch Hu that no other man ever knew. The Gemara in Berachot (7a) notes conflicting events in the Parshah: if Bil’am is able to understand the awesome and mystical Hashem so well, how is he not able to understand an ordinary donkey?

The Gemara resolves that “Yodei’a Da’at Elyon” means that Bil’am is able to identify the specific times of the day when Hashem becomes angry. Bil’am wants to use this knowledge to channel Hashem’s anger towards the Jews; however, on the days that Bil’am curses the Jews, Hashem does not get angry. As Bil’am says while trying to curse the Jewish people (BeMidbar 23:8), “UMah Ez’om Lo Za’am Hashem,” “How can I anger? Hashem is not angry.” But there is still a question on the Gemara’s interpretation of “Yodei’a Da’at Elyon”: What is significant about Bil’am knowing when Hashem would get angry?

The Midrash tells us that when Hashem created the world, His initial intent was for it to be operated with complete Midat HaDin, the attribute of judgment. Meaning, when a person would commit a sin, he would receive the appropriate punishment immediately. The problem with this system was that there was no time for Teshuvah; therefore, Hashem instead made the world with a blend of Midat HaDin and Midat HaRachamim, the attribute of mercy. This Midat HaRachamim gives us the opportunity to do Teshuvah, whereas we otherwise would be punished with no delay.

Bil’am repeatedly calls himself a “Setum HaAyin” (BeMidbar 24:3, 24:15), and there are various opinions as to what that means. Rashi (ad. loc. s.v. Setum HaAyin) is of the opinion that Bil’am only had one eye. Why would Bil’am be proud of this defect? The Beit Av, written by Rav Avraham Aharon Yudelevitch, explains that every person is created with two eyes – one of Rachamim, and one of Din. We are supposed to use our eyes to either judge each person favorably, or to assume an evil person guilty. When Rashi explains that Bil’am only had one eye, he is referring to the Ayin Ra’ah; that is, he only had an evil eye. When the Torah states that Bil’am knew “Da’at Elyon,” it means that he knew that Hashem would most often operate with the Midat HaRachamim, and once a day He would return to Midat HaDin and view the world solely through justice. The strength of Bil’am came from his ability to view everything through Midat HaDin, and he used that strength to utilize Hashem’s moment of anger and curse Bnei Yisrael. But, before Bil’am was able to succeed, he realized that “Lo Hibit Aven BeYa’akov,” “[Hashem] perceived no iniquity in Ya’akov” (23:21). In other words, since Hashem saw no sin in Bnei Yisrael, He did not administer a punishment.

The Beit Av notes that Chazal had at one point wanted to add Parashat Balak (specifically the attempts of Bil’am to curse Bnei Yisrael) into Keriat Shema. The Satmar Rav explains that they didn’t do so, however, because they didn’t want to make the Shema too lengthy. Instead, says the Satmar Rav, Chazal wanted to completely replace the daily Shema with the recitation of Parashat Balak. The only reason they didn’t end up doing that was because of the overwhelming effect that daily reading about the concept of Midat HaDin would have had on the Jewish people.

        We, as human beings, have no idea how the justice system of Hashem really works. What we do know is that while He operates with the Midat HaDin every day, Hashem also gives us the opportunity to do Teshuvah to avoid the otherwise immediate punishments. The choice is ours whether or not to take this opportunity for granted and waste it, or to take advantage of Hashem’s mercy and enjoy the benefits.

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