(There is an irony/synchronicity of the previous article posting just before the Shabbat we read Parshat Balak, as well as the Mussar Workshop itself occurring that day.)
Not only are this Torah portions’s first words (BaMidbar 22:2), וַיַּרְא בָּלָק, VaYa’r Balak, And Balak saw…. (he sees Israel), followed in the very next verse (verse 3) by וַיָּגָר מוֹאָב מִפְּנֵי הָעָם מְאֹד, VaYagar Moav Mipney Ha’Am M’Od, and Moab was greatly frightened by the Nation (Israel)….
A little later in the story, Bilam, the blind sorcerer summoned to curse the Jewish People, and his donkey have an unearthly adventure. A fiery angel with drawn sword blocks the road. Suddenly,(BaMidbar 22:23) וַתֵּרֶא הָאָתוֹן אֶת־מַלְאַךְ יְהֹוָה נִצָּב בַּדֶּרֶךְ וְחַרְבּוֹ שְׁלוּפָה, And the donkey sees the Angel of God, standing in the path, sword drawn. The donkey, in a panic, veers from this terrifying sight, crushing Bilam’s leg. Next (verse 31), וַיְגַל יְהוָֹה אֶת־עֵינֵי בִלְעָם וַיַּרְא אֶת־מַלְאַךְ יְהוָֹה נִצָּב בַּדֶּרֶךְ וְחַרְבּוֹ שְׁלֻפָה בְּיָדוֹ וַיִּקֹּד וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ לְאַפָּיו, And God revealed/opened Bilam’s eyes and he saw God’s angel blocking the way, sword drawn, and he bowed down and fell on his face….
We all intentionally limit our vision to one degree or another, refusing to see reality as it is. We become complacent and develop for ourselves very comfortable ways of viewing the world. The more self-indulgent our fantasies become, the more terrifying it can be to have them suddenly stripped away, leaving us to see things as they really are, to confront reality in all it’s dimensions.
Yes, reality can be terrifying after we’ve refused to recognize it. But as we open our hearts as well as our eyes, beauty and peace can also enter our vision. Each time Balak brings Bilam to a new vista, in the hopes that sharing his jaded view of Israel will allow Bilam to curse Israel, Bilam, increasingly sees the true reality of Israel and, instead, blesses them. Finally, seeing the modest respect for each others privacy and integrity, symbolized by their orderly tents, he opens with וּנְאֻם הַגֶּבֶר שְׁתֻם הָעָיִן, U’n’um HaGever Sh’tum Ha’Ayin, and so speaks the man of the shut/open eye, and continues with the famous blessing (BaMidbar 24:5), מַה־טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ יַעֲקֹב מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל, Mah Tovu Ohalecha Ya’akov, Mishkanotecha Yisrael, How good are the tents of Ya’akov, the dwellings of Israel.
Once our eyes have been opened and reality, however frightening at first, is accepted, greater clear vision brings greater blessing.