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Israeli students

The true nature of a person can be seen in the nature of the type of people who follow him. The student often reflects the teacher.

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion (in Israel) is “Balak” (Numbers 22:2-25:9) and it we read about Bilaam, a non-Jewish prophet, who was granted a level of prophecy on the level of Moses.

He was also a magician and sorcerer.

Balak, the king of Moav, wanted to hire Bilaam to curse the Jewish people for a ton of money. God told Bilaam not to go along with the scheme, but Bilaam ignored Him.

In the end, Bilaam ended up blessing the Jews against his will instead of cursing them. We are told that Bilaam was so evil he was put to death in a method that combines all four death penalties (stoning, burning, decapitating, and strangling) into one. He was one of the few people on who our sages said “have no share in the world to come.”

The Talmud contrasts Abraham and Bilaam. Our sages say that “the disciples of Abraham have the following traits: a benevolent eye, a humble spirit and a meek soul.” We are then told that “the disciples of Bilaam have the following traits: an evil eye, an arrogant spirit and a greedy soul.”

The question is asked: Why does the Talmud present the difference in terms of the traits of the “disciples,” instead of just contrasting the differences between Abraham and Bilaam themselves?

It is explained that by looking at Abraham and Bilaam alone, and by extension, any religious or political leaders, one is often unable to distinguish between the two.

This is especially true when comparing Abraham and Bilaam. Both were prophets. Both preached about God. Both were likely dressed similarly. One could easily be misled to believe that Bilaam was a saintly person.

One is often unable to fully grasp a leader’s opinions, thoughts or agendas simply by looking at them. Think about it, they’re all dressed well. They’re all very polished, articulate, and have plenty of followers. Evil leaders and politicians often look and sound exactly like the good ones.

The former are masters in getting you to vote for them while hiding their true agendas.

If you want to know what a leader stands for, examine those who surround him.

The true nature of a person can be seen in the nature of the type of people who follow him. The student often reflects the teacher.

It is a form of the famous saying “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” The same is true when choosing friends or who to do business with. Take a look at the type of people who associate with such people and make your decision based on your empirical analysis. You’ll likely not be wrong!

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.