Finding Good in People
Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
This week we read parashat Balak. As the Israelites traveled to Canaan, their reputation preceded them, and the Moabites were well aware of the miracles that had accompanied Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Balak, the king of Moab, was scared of the Israelites and hence tried to engage the magician/prophet Balaam for the purpose of cursing them.
I think it is interesting to notice that there are 54 parashot in the Torah. Among them, only five have a proper name as the title of a parasha: Noach, Yitro, Korach, Balak, and Pinchas. This is a rather technical fact because a parasha receives its title from one of the first non-common words that appear on them, and not because of its content. However, having a parasha titled by your name looks like an incredible honor. It is, therefore, natural to wonder what merit did our five Biblical characters obtain to have a parasha titled after their names. Let’s see…
About Noah it is written that, “Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age” (Genesis 6:9). Regarding Yitro, Moses’ father in-law, he had the great merit of providing his profound advice to Moses (Exodus 18:21-23), which allowed Moses to be more fair and more productive and have more time for leading the Children of Israel. Korach, who was a first cousin to Moses and Aaron, rebelled against Moses and Aaron, but the Talmud explains that he and his people were very well-learned in Torah (Sanhedrin 110:a). Pinchas, Aaron’s grandson, brings an end to a plague and God rewards him with a covenant of peace for his act of zealotry.
What about Balak? He was a Moabite king who wanted to curse the Israelites, so he could eventually defeat them in battle. Is that a reason to merit that a parasha is titled after his name? Certainly not! The sages, however, manage to find some merit in Balak. According to the Talmud (Sota 47:a) the 42 sacrifices offered by Balak to God (following Balaam’s instructions) were enough merit to achieve that Ruth the Moabite descended from him. Also, as you might know, King David descended from Ruth. That is why, according to this Midrash, Balak had enough merit to deserve that a parasha is named after him.
One thing I like about this last midrash is that the rabbis were able to find merit, a good thing, in a gentile king who is known for trying to curse Israel in order to beat it. If you can find merit in Balak, I would say you can find merit in almost everybody! Above all, this is an important lesson for all of us, who are constantly judging other people.
You are not expected to be a big fan of every human being. However, you can make an effort and try to find some good things even in people you don’t like very much, or in people you tend to disagree with. If the sages were able to find merit in Balak, you can certainly find some merit in those who are around you, even in those you thought did not have any merit. Perhaps you should try harder!