In Parashat Balak, Bil’am is summoned by Balak to curse the Jewish people. Along the way, Bilam’s donkey stops and refuses to take another step. Bil’am then hits the donkey three times before the donkey talks and tells him that an angel of Hashem was there. The Pasuk states, “Vayiftach Hashem Et Pi HaAton VaTomer LeVil’am Meh Asiti Lach,” “And Hashem opened the mouth of the donkey and it said to Bil’am, ‘What have I done to you?’” (BeMidbar 22:28).
Never before in history had such an unusual and miraculous event as a donkey talking occurred. Therefore, any person that would be in that situation should be filled with awe and amazement, and would rethink this travel plans. Nevertheless, Bil’am had no such reaction.
Bil’am was not an ordinary person. He was a famous and wise person. He did not command armies, but he was stronger than any general because of his ability to curse or bless anyone.
Sforno comments on the Pasuk, “Hashem Sefatai Tiftach Ufi Yagid Tehilatecha,” “Hashem, open my lips, so my mouth can declare your praise” (Tehillim 51:17), that the ability for donkeys to communicate is no less than the speaking abilities of humans. Sforno actually compares the speech of a donkey to the speech of a human being.
Bil’am should have said to himself, “My strength is my ability to talk, in that everything I bless is blessed, and everything I curse is cursed. The same God that gave me this ability has just given this donkey the ability to talk. This is a sign to me that I should not use my power for evil, and that I should abandon my journey.”
Yet for some reason, this sign went right over his head. He never stopped to consider the significance of what he had just seen. As smart as Bil’am might have been, he missed the clear significance of this message.
What lesson can we derive from this? If Bil’am who was very intelligent, could miss a miracle as obvious as this, then this can happen to any of us. When a person has a drive for money or power, he becomes blind to reality, and can miss the most obvious messages. He only sees what he wants to see.
This is very similar to what might have happened to Bernie Madoff. He had a drive to make millions of dollars, and anything that got in his way would be blocked out of his mind.
Madoff and Bil’am never considered the larger picture and never rethought what they were doing. In the heat of the moment, it is very difficult not to blow through all roadblocks, but one must back up and look at the bigger picture.