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In this week’s Parsha, Balak invites Bilam, a scorcer and prophet, to curse B’nai Yisroel. Bilam had prophetic powers similar to Moshe Rabbeinu. Hashem rested his divine presence on him. Rashi notes that the reason for this was to prevent the pagans from claiming that had they had a prophet as great as Moshe, they, too, would’ve been influenced for the good. Ultimately, Bilam had a tremendous negative effect on them, causing them to break the barriers of decency. If so, the pagans can say that their claim still stands, for indeed they did not have a prophet of the caliber of Moshe, but instead a corrupt and evil one.

If we understand the correct outlook on the subject of greatness, we can see where the pagans are mistaken. The pagans believed that a man who had supreme intellectual powers and the divine presence resting on him was automatically a great man. They believed that the way to greatness was in amassing knowledge and wisdom. This is not so.

Knowledge in itself does not have the power to change the inborn nature of a person. "Ki yetzer lev ha’adam ra m’neorav." Man is born with a yetzer hara, an evil inclination. Only at the age of Bar or Bat Mitzvah is the yetzer hatov added. A person must work on themselves relentlessly to conquer and uproot the yetzer hara, and only then can he reach perfection. Throughout the generations, Hashem rested his divine presence only on those who ceaselessly labored to overcome their yetzer hara.

Thus, to the pagans, whose innate nature was corrupt, prophecy and wisdom would have no lasting effect. This is what Hashem was showing them by giving them a prophet such as Bilam. Since Bilam didn’t strive to overcome his base inclination, all of the wisdom in the world had no effect on him.

The task of a person is to tirelessly work on perfecting their ways, for dry knowledge will have no permanent effect on a person. (Ta’am V’da’as)

In the words of R’ Yisroel Salanter, the founder of the mussar movement, "Man lives in order to break the bad middah which he has not yet broken. In order to do so, he must constantly strengthen himself, and if he doesn’t strengthen himself, why does he live?

According to Jewish tradition, the mother is the one who is assigned the prime responsibility of refining the character traits of her children. Besides seeing to it that our children have an adequate Jewish education, we must also insure that they develop fine character traits in the home.

Source: Ta’am Va’da’as

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