Thursday, June 24, 2010

[KollelH blog] BALAK

Anyone familiar with this week's parshah and its midrashim about Bilam, would be quite mystified by a related mishnah in Pirkei Avos (5.19).

"One who has these three attributes is amongst the students of Avraham avinu, whereas having their opposite traits would render him a student of Bilam the rashah. Ayin tovah, Ruach n'muchah, & Nefesh sh'failah........ What is the difference between their students? Avraham's students reap reward in this world and inherit the world to come...."

The questions abound.
  1. Are there only three opposing approaches in the schools of thought of our great patriarch and the evil Bilam?!
  2. Secondly, how can the mishnah ask what is the difference between them - one would assume they are quite distinguishable from each other!
  3. Thirdly, from the mishnah's response, it seems as if their difference lies only in their reward & punishment, which is blatantly self understood. The question and answer seem to be completely uninformative!
  4. Lastly, why does the mishnah refer to those possessing these traits as talmidim - students? There are many Tanaim suggesting good practices throughout pirkei avos, yet seldom are the followers of these middos called talmidim of their originators!

I would like to share my simple understanding of this remarkable mishnah.

The Medrash Rabbah (parshas toldos) states, that so long as Yakov and Eisav were under bar mitzvah, they both studied in yeshivah and one could not notice any difference in their spirituality. It was only after they turned thirteen, when Eisav left for the fields and Yakov remained to learn, that their differences were exposed. It is not necessarily one's actions that will shape his future, but his underlying middos.

R' Chaim Vital writes (Sharei Hakdushah; qouted in many sifrei mussar) that middos are the foundations upon which all of torah rests. Our character traits and moods are what largely push us either to perform mitzvos or do aveiros.
When a person is accustomed to specific traits, they will usually end up leading his life, and controlling most of his decisions in the future. It is in this training ground that the mishnah refers to us as being talmidim - students. Some traits have a more all-encompassing control over our lives than others. As one trains himself specifically in the above three middos, our mishnah informs us that REGARDLESS of what our actions are at the time, we are students being indoctrinated into the path of either Avraham or Bilam. Our actions at the time may show us to be great tzadikim or vice versa, but we are sure to end up in the manner of our training in these three middos.
This is why the mishnah does not notice any obvious difference between the two "students". It is not discussing someone who has already matured into being an Avraham avinu or a Bilam harashah. Rather it is referring to two people who are quite the same, yet they are practicing and training in the 'schools' of these 'headmasters'.

As the summer rolls in let us check which school we're registered in for the coming semester!
  • Ayin tovah - 'a good eye' - a general feeling of good will for others. As opposed to being stingy and unhappy about the success of others.
  • Ruach n'muchah - a humble spirit. As opposed to looking for honor and recognition.
  • Nefesh sh'failah - a simple 'apetite' - being satisfied with one's lot. As opposed to desiring more and wanting what others may have.

The above especially true regarding children in their formative years, before their actions can properly portray their personality. These youngsters, whose temporary role in life is to be students - learning and training from all their experiences,  are definitely included in this mishnah.

Posted By Dovi milstein to KollelH blog at 6/25/2010 02:58:00 AM

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