SALT - Sunday, 6 Tammuz 5780 - June 28, 2020

  • Rav David Silverberg
            Yesterday, we noted the Gemara’s famous discussion in Masekhet Berakhot (7a) about the story of Bilam’s unsuccessful attempt to place a curse on Benei Yisrael.  Bilam prided himself over knowing “da’at Elyon” – “the mind of the Supreme One,” and the Gemara explains this to mean that Bilam had the unique ability to identify the brief moment of each day when God is angry.  His strategy was to place his curse at that very moment, and if he had done so, then his curse would have been effective, and Benei Yisrael would have been annihilated.  God foiled Bilam’s plan by ensuring not to grow angry at all – even for that split second – during the time Bilam attempted to place his curse.
            Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel remarked that the Gemara here seeks to express to us the power of a single moment.  In even just a brief moment, Bilam would have had the power to bring an end to Am Yisrael.  If not for God’s compassion for Benei Yisrael, Bilam would have wrought destruction in but an instant.  Rav Finkel noted that just as Bilam had the power to bring ruin and devastation in a brief moment, we have the power to build, produce and achieve in just a single instant.  At every moment, we have opportunities to grow and to contribute.  If Bilam was able to destroy in an instant, then certainly we have the ability to accomplish in an instant.
            Developing this point one step further, the example set by Bilam also shows the importance of timing.  Bilam indeed had the ability to destroy – but only because he was able to determine the right time for perpetrating his nefarious scheme.  Conversely, then, we can achieve great things in an instant – if our timing is right, if we are wise, patient and disciplined enough to recognize each moment’s unique potential and then maximize it.  Just as Bilam needed to identify the “auspicious” moment when his destructive plans could be brought to fruition, we must similarly try to identify the unique opportunity of every given instant, which will, in most cases, be different from the opportunities presented by the preceding and subsequent moments.  Although we cannot claim to “know the mind of the Supreme One,” we must try, as best we can, to pinpoint the special opportunities offered by every moment of our lives, and seize those opportunities to their very fullest.