Parashat Balak

Not Seeing Is The Sin

Like Bilaam, we should open our eyes to seeing the problematic paths we take in life.

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I think this midrash implies that Balaam really did know, on some semiconscious level, that it was not good to head out to meet Balak. Balaam did a very common thing: he overruled his own conscience, and chose not to see, not to understand, the problematic nature of his chosen path. It's literally a path in the story, but I think the road or path here symbolizes the set of decisions he's making. He didn't want to see the angel, so he didn't.

The idea that not knowing can itself be a chet, or falling short of the mark, is a powerful challenge. What are we not seeing that we choose not to see? Do we use Balaam's excuse--"I didn't know"--when our friends and family need our help and support? Do we say, "I didn't see" when we step over the homeless on our way to work, or when we encounter the effects of any other problem in our community? Choosing not to see is something we all do at times--even a prophet can sometimes fail to see the angel in front of him. The good news is that we are created with a spark of the Divine within, and we can have our eyes opened at any time.

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Rabbi Neal J. Loevinger

Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger is currently the rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Poughkeepsie, NY. A former student at Kolel, he served as Kolel's Director of Outreach from late 1999-2001. He was ordained in the first graduating class of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the University of Judaism, and holds a Master's of Environmental Studies from York University in Toronto.