Rabbi O’s Weekly- Chukat/Balak (Numbers 19:1-25:9)Seeing the Flame; Staying in the Game

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 Rabbi Chaim ben Attar (1696-1743; Morocco) in his monumentalOhr HaChaim commentary, Bilaam deceived himself by thinking that when the day of death arrived, he would change his errant ways. Then Rabbi ben Attar shares the following personal account:Similarly, I have seen criminals who told me they would change their ways if they would be certain they would die immediately afterwards.Bilaam wanted to die like a good person but he wasn’t willing to live his life as one because he was not willing to confront the negativity in his life.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 features in life to take advantage of, their purpose is 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 have an effective change in your eating habits. It might entail therapy or attending a food group and making yourself vulnerable at meetings-it takes commitment, not just observing and wishing. Someone who grew up in a dysfunctional house and believes he has been so emotionally damaged that he can’t have an emotionally healthy relationship might admire someone who gets married and takes on the responsibilities of raising a family. However, instead of merely admiring someone else, he can tell himself that he will do whatever it takes to get the life he really wants to live. It might mean accepting much help and support, and even pain at times, but at least he has the chance not only to admire someone else’s life choices, but 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 am I willing to give up to get the bigger pleasure of the thing I want.Rav Yisrael Salanter (1810-1883) once noticed an elderly Jewish 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 at night. The old answered, “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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 Good Shabbos
Rabbi Oppenheim
Charlotte Torah Center