Story-ideas-1011172

If someone wants to do something good - embrace it

  • ParshaVayeitzeiRabbi
The story of Bilam presents a glaring question to us about Hashem’s attitude towards us and the decisions we make.
by Rabbi Sam Thurgood, Beit Midrash Morasha @ Arthur's Road in Sea Point | Jul 06, 2017

After the Moabite King Balak sends emissaries to engage Bilam’s services in cursing the Jewish people, it seems that Hashem is willing to endorse the mission. Although, when Bilam initially communicates his dastardly intentions, Hashem denies him permission; when the request is repeated the following night, Hashem says that Bilam may indeed go - with the significant condition that he will only be able to speak the words Hashem gives him.

As Bilam leaves, riding his trusted donkey, an angel with a sword is dispatched to oppose him, but this angel too, eventually gives permission to Bilam to continue.

Why not stop him? Significantly, both in the night-time communication with G-d and with the angel, Bilam asks if he may go. This is different to the usual question of theodicy: “Why does Hashem allow bad things to happen in the world?” but rather “Why does Hashem say ‘yes’ to Bilam asking to do something bad in the world?”

Rebbe Tzadok HaKohein of Lublin, the great Chassidic thinker of the 1900s, proposes a radical idea: Hashem helps people who want to do something good.

We are often familiar with the concept of siyata dishmaya, the help of Heaven. Many of us even write this at the top of our documents - we ask Hashem for assistance in all of our endeavours.

Our Sages tell us (Gemora Yoma 38b): “One who comes to be made pure, they help him.”

Hashem helps all who call upon Him to do what is right. But we must think more deeply: On what basis is Hashem’s help given? For something that is objectively “good”, or for a person who believes that they are doing the right thing?

I had always assumed the former, but life is too complex for most of our actions to be entirely good (or entirely evil). Everything we do has a lifetime of consequences, many of them far beyond what we could ever know and intend.

Should Hashem only help us in actions that will lead only to purely good outcomes? Rebbe Tzadok says no. Hashem helps us every time we make a genuine attempt to do the right thing.

If a person is knowingly and willingly going against what Hashem taught us is good and right and holy, he should know that his behaviour is unsanctioned and unsupported. However, if he is inspired to do something good, something for the sake of Hashem and His people, he can count on Heavenly support.

As radical as this sounds, I believe that this should be a model for our own behaviour towards those around us. How often have we approached someone with a good idea, and all they have pointed out is what is wrong with it, why it will fail, why it’s naïve and no good?

Let us rather learn from Hashem. If someone wants to do something good, embrace it, support it, guide it if necessary, but let’s not let our uncompromising high standards get in the way of a great vision for the future.

Shabbat Shalom.

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