The week’s Parsha talks about the infamous prophet Bilaam. Bilaam, who was a great prophet, is asked by the king of Moab, Balak to curse the Jews. Hashem at first refuses to allow him to go to do this. When Bilaam pushes for it, Hashem allows him to go, with the condition that he only says the things that Hashem instructs him. Subsequently, Hashem only allows Bilaam to bless the Jews, not curse them.
The Sages tell us that all people in the world are disciples of a teacher: Anyone that has the three special traits of looking favorably upon others, humility, and being happy with what he has is from the disciples of Abraham. Whoever has the traits of looking disparagingly upon others, arrogance, and a greedy soul is from the disciples of the evil Bilaam. The Mishnah concludes, what is the difference between the disciples of Abraham and the disciples of Bilaam the wicked? The disciples of Abraham enjoy this world and inherit the next. The disciples of Bilaam inherit Gehinom (purgatory) and descend to the well of destruction.
These evil character traits of Bilaam are shown many times in this week’s Parsha. When Hashem tells Bilaam that he can’t go with the offices of Balak to curse the Jews, Bilaam doesn’t say this to the officers of Balak. Instead of simply saying, “Hashem doesn’t give me permission to go”, Bilaam says Hashem won’t let me go with officers of your caliber. The clear inference is that a prophet of the stature of Bilaam can only go with more notable and great officers. The conceit and arrogance of Bilaam are clearly shown. This example is repeated over and over in the Parsha.
The disciples of Abraham, on the other hand, are totally different than Bilaam. They are full of solid character, and of ethics that are beautiful.
The sages in Ethics of the Fathers are teaching us that no person in the world is removed from these two camps. Every person is either a disciple of Abraham, or a disciple of Bilaam.
One may think that if he or she chooses to be part of the camp of Abraham’s disciples, they will have a miserable existence in this world. True, they will enjoy the next world, but the road they travel in this world will be very hard.
To emphasize to us that this is not the case, the Mishnah tells us its special ending; not only do the disciples of Abraham have a tremendous portion in the world to come. They also have an enjoyable existence and special life in this world. This is the great power of these good character traits: They provide a pleasant life in this world, and eternal reward in the next.
May we all choose the correct school (camp) to belong to.