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Religion

Use your eyes to see good

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There was once a noted Torah scholar who prided himself in his acute ability to correct other people’s mistakes. He had an eagle-eye for errors, and was always quick to point them out. When he passed away, the heavenly court asked him what he had excelled at during his lifetime. The gentleman proudly replied that he had been quite a scholar.

“In that case,” the welcoming angel decided, “You should give us all a shiur so that we can appreciate your abilities.”

“I have a better idea,” the scholar retorted. “Please tell me, who would you consider the brightest individual in heaven?”

“That would be G-d Himself,” the angel responded.

“In that case,” our misguided intellectual suggested, “let’s ask G-d to give a shiur, and I will point out whatever He gets wrong!”

As a child, the Lubavitcher Rebbe once asked his father why G-d gave us each two eyes. His father explained that the right or benevolent eye is for looking at other people; the left, or critical eye is for looking at ourselves.

Chabadniks have been well-trained by our Rebbe to look for the positive in every person. Someone once challenged the Rebbe over the Talmud’s assertion that even a sinful Jew is full of good deeds. Surely, if someone is a sinner, they have no mitzvos. The Rebbe gently suggested that the question should be the other way around, “If every Jew is described as ‘full of good deeds’, how dare we call any Jew a sinner?”

Balaam, the antisemitic prophet of this week’s Torah portion, took the opposite view. He dedicated his life to finding and highlighting the negative. He was an expert at exposing people’s flaws and weaknesses. He prided himself that he could detect that one daily nanosecond when G-d could become angry.

Balaam, we are taught, was blind in one eye. He was incapable of seeing goodness, and could only detect rot. He only had the left, critical eye. He was the polar opposite of Abraham, who tried to find goodness in the scoundrels of Sodom.

But, even Balaam turned at the end. When he observed the Jewish encampment in the desert, it changed his perspective. He saw how the tent formations were designed so that no family could see into its neighbour’s tent. The Jewish camp was laid out to prevent people from seeing each other’s dirty laundry.

This had such a profound effect on Balaam, he offered one of the most powerful blessings ever given to the Jewish people. His penetrating words are now part of our daily prayers.

Modern media loves to smear anyone, especially Israel. Society plays judge and jury, writing people off even before the facts emerge. Even in our own communities, unsubstantiated rumours snowball from school parking lot gossip to the Shabbos table’s main course.

G-d gave us two eyes. Unlike Balaam, we can and should seek the good in everyone. After all, G-d looks for the positive in those who find good in others.

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