|This week’s Parsha introduces us to an anti-Semite named Balak. He hired the wicked Bilaam to destroy the Jews; Bilaam agreed and even attempted to do so but was unsuccessful. At one point, Bilaam uttered a remarkable statement; something we would not have expected to come from the mouth of such a malicious person.Let me die the death of the righteous and let my end be like his. (23:10)What did he mean by this? When was the last time an evil person asked to die the death of the righteous? According to the commentary Ohr HaChaim (1696-1743), he deceived himself by thinking that when the day of death arrived, he would improve his evil ways. He wanted to continue leading the immoral life he led (engaging in bestiality with his donkey is merely one indication of his depravity) if he could be assured that he would die immediately after deciding to do so. He wanted to be righteous at the time of death but could not bring himself to actually live that life. Bilaam realized that he was living a life of falsehood and that he would bear the consequences; he wanted to do teshuva (make a life change) but only at the end of his life.Ohr Hachaim continues with an incredible first hand account of a phenomenon he had witnessed. “Likewise I have seen evil people who told me that if they would be certain that if they did teshuva (i.e. change their ways) and would then immediately die, that they would do so, but they know that they could not maintain their teshuva (life change) for a longer period of time, because the foolish and old king (yetzer hara, the evil inclination) dominates them.” Bilaam prayed, Let me die the death of the righteous and let my end be like his, but he could not come to terms with his own wickedness.The lesson we can learn from Bilaam is that in order to die like a good person, you need to live like one. Jews don’t believe in accepting a deity a moment before passing and being absolved of all wrongdoings. We are about action, which means living-taking action-a good life. We don’t do so by retreating from the world, we do so by engaging in it. Bilaam was captivated by the Jews and how they lived. He said, “How goodly are your tents Jacob, your dwelling places Israel.” If he saw their wonderful qualities, why didn’t he pray for the ability to live as a Jew or at least to live as a decent person? The answer is because he was not able to endure the responsibility of living a life of commitment. Family, community, friends, and work are not fixtures in life to take advantage of, they are there to give us opportunities to give.A life of commitment to values is a life of meaning; the price paid for it is deferring immediate pleasure for a greater pleasure in the future. It’s not admiring a person on a diet; it’s doing whatever necessary to be successful in dieting yourself. That might entail therapy or attending a food group and making yourself vulnerable at meetings, but it’s commitment and meaning. Someone who grew up in a dysfunctional house might admire someone who gets married and takes on the responsibilities of raising a family but what will bring him true happiness is giving it a shot himself. It might take a lot of help and support, and even pain at times, but at least he has the chance not only to “die the death of the righteous,” he has the exciting opportunity to live that life.What trait or lifestyle do you admire? Does your family spend too much time looking at screens? Do you wish you could be like the family down the block who has set strict guidelines for electronics? You don’t have to resign yourself to wishing; swallow your pride and ask how they did it. Find out how you can adopt a system that works for your family. Dieting, family, screen time, loyalty in marriage, whatever it is others have that you want, ask yourself, what immediate pleasure a I willing to give up to get the bigger pleasure of the thing I want.Rav Yisrael Salanter (1810-1883) once noticed an elderly shoe-maker working late into the night by the light of a small flickering flame. He approached him and asked why he was working so late into the night. The old Jew understood that it looked as if work had overtaken his life but he answered back, saying “as long as the candle is burning there’s still time to work and repair!” These words went straight to the Rabbi’s heart because he interpreted them as applying to life. From then onward, they became a mantra, as he was heard saying and repeating, “as long as the candle is burning, there is still time to work and repair.” As long as we are alive, we can work and repair. You don’t have to be resigned to one who wishes for a better life, as long as your candle is burning, you can use the opportunity to work and strive for the life you crave. You might not get exactly what you had wished for but you will be far happier trying to get somewhere than merely wishing you had.If you are reading this it means your candle is still burning-go for it, do whatever it takes to grab that wish. Good Shabbos
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