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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What Makes You Tick? (Balak)

The story of Bilaam is very puzzling. Bilaam was a prophet, a wise man, and a teller of the future, yet he is seems to be the most clueless character in this week’s parsha.

From the beginning of the Parsha, when Balak asked Bilaam to to curse the Jews, it seems clear that Hashem will not allow the curse to take place.  Bilaam doesn’t get this. We find him speaking with Hashem that night patiently and clearly explaining the purpose of the visit to Hashem and hoping that it will work out. When Hashem finally allows Bilaam to go forth with Balak’s men, he still thought that the Jew’s would be cursed. His donkey knew that wouldn’t happen, Balak ecentually realized that it wouldn’t happen, but Bilaam remained oblivious. What happened to the man who claimed to “know the thoughts of Hashem”?

At one point in the parsha, Bilaam goes outside and saddles his donkey. The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 55:8) points out that this was very unusual. People of Bilaam’s stature did not usually saddle their own donkeys. It was only because Bilaam was so enthusiastic about cursing the Jewish people that he went out and did it himself. The Medrash brings this to illustrate that hatred has the ability to warp one’s mind. Bilaam saw all of the same things we did – maybe more - but he was unable to perceive them because of his strong hatred. He was blind to reality.

Pirkei Avos tells us that Jealousy, Lust, and honor remove a person from the world. They have the power to completely distract us and blind us to everything going on around us.

Even when it was clear that he would fail, Bilaam kept on trying new places, new strategies and new subjects.

Bilaam was not completely crazy. In the Haftorah we mention that the Jews deserved to be cursed. His hatred and enthusiasm actually did have the power and potential to ruin us as a people. The only thing that saved us was our own love and enthusiasm for the will of Hashem. Many years before Bilaam got up early to saddle his donkey, our grandfather Avraham got up early to saddle his. The Medrash explains that it was Avraham’s love and enthusiasm for the will of Hashem that was able to outshine the Bilaam’s enthusiastic hatred.

Bilaam himself attested to this when he said “Behold a nation rises like a lion cub”. The Targum explains that this refers to the Jewish people rising to say shema and put on tefillin and tzitzis and to do the will of Hashem.

It is very important that we, as people, take a step back and figure out what gets us excited and what makes us tick. If we are motivated by something impure we are in danger of becoming completely oblivious to the world around us examine our true motivations and intentions.

On the other hand, if we are motivated by that which is right and by the desire to help others, to become better people, and to fulfill Hashem’s will we will be successful. Hashem guides a person in the way that he truly wishes to travel.

Posted on 07/10 at 03:31 AM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Sender Haber

Rabbi Sender Haber is the Rabbi of the B'nai Israel Congregation in Norfolk, VA. He is well known throughout Hampton Roads, having arrived over twelve years ago as one of the original four members of the Norfolk Area Community Kollel. In that capacity, Rabbi Haber was involved in community wide programming, teaching, and outreach. He has inspired many Jews to expand their Jewish identity and increase their love of Torah and commitment to its observance. Everyone who knows Rabbi Haber is touched by his breadth of Torah knowledge and his ability to convey the wisdom of the ages in such a way as to make those esoteric writings accessible to persons of all levels of experience and a variety of backgrounds.

Rabbi Haber has served in a number of capacities during his years in Norfolk. Since 2003 Rabbi Haber has been a teacher of Jewish Studies at Toras Chaim Day School in Portsmouth, teaching boys and girls of all ages, with a focus on Gemara, Halacha, and Chumash. He has also taught at Yeshivas Aish Kodesh and Bina High School in Norfolk, and served as Assistant Rabbi of B’nai Israel for 6 years. He also serves as the Rabbi of the “Lost Tribe,” Tidewater’s Jewish Motorcycle group! While handling all of these responsibilities, he has continued to participate in numerous Chavrusos (one-on-one learning partnerships) covering a wide range of topics and writings.

Rabbi Haber and his wife Chamie have been married for thirteen years. They have four children, Minna (9), Moshe (6), Ely (4), and Akiva Meir, born in August of 2012. They both come from rabbinic families steeped in Torah, Kiruv and Chesed. Rabbi Haber received his Rabbinic Ordination (Yoreh Yoreh) from Rabbi Sender Rosenbloom and Rabbi Mordechai Freidlander of the Jerusalem Beth Din. He was awarded a Teaching Certificate by Torah Umesorah Association for Jewish Day Schools in 2004 and again in 2009. In addition, Rabbi Haber has spent over a decade studying Talmud, Jewish Law, and ethics in some of the world’s most prestigious Yeshivos including Beth Medrash Gavoha in Lakewood, NJ and Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted through the Synagogue office at 757-627-7358, or through e-mail at