This week we read the Torah portion of Balak. At the conclusion of the last Torah portion, Israel sent out messengers to the Amorite nation asking for permission to pass through their land. They swore that they would not put the Amorites out in the slightest by using any of the Amorites’ resources. Not only did the Amorites refuse to allow Israel passage, but they waged war with Israel. Israel managed to prevail over them. Now, Balak the king of the Moabites, heard what had occurred and he had very negative feelings toward the nation of Israel. Therefore, he hired a sorcerer by the name of Bilaam to curse the Jewish people. Try as Bilaam did, he could not curse the Jewish people.
In the Jewish tradition, there is a concept known as “ayin hara”, or an “evil eye.” Simply put, envy, jealousy, hatred, all fall under this category of having an “evil eye.” It is certainly an accepted view in Jewish sources that when one casts an “evil eye” on another, it could indeed cause harm to the one being targeted. However, Rebbe Nachman explains that the “evil eye” can only harm one who himself has an “evil eye” to a certain extent.
For example, looking at the Purim story there is no question that Haman had an “evil eye” for the righteous Mordechai. As much wealth and honor as Haman received, he still envied and had jealousy of Mordechai for the respect that King Achashveros gave him. Haman hated Mordechai and targeted him. Nevertheless, nowhere in the Scroll of Esther do we see Mordechai bothered by Haman’s high position. He doesn’t speak evilly of Haman nor does he harbor jealousy for Haman. As a result, no matter how much Haman tried to bring harm to Mordechai, he never succeeded.
Returning to the Torah portion, we see the very same story. As much as Bilaam and Balak cast an “evil eye” over Israel, they do not succeed in harming Israel. There is a wonderful hint that shows how the Jewish people were able to prevent the “evil eye” from having a hold in their camp. Bilaam states, “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel” (Numbers 24:5). The biblical commentator Rashi explains, “For he saw that the entrances were not facing each other.” This tells us that the Jewish people made sure to set up their tents in such a way that they would not look into the tents of their neighbors and as such would guard themselves from coming to harbor envy or jealousy for others.
We learn a powerful lesson from the above that informs the manner in which we should aspire to live. Unlike Haman who could not enjoy what belonged to him because of his fixation on the lives of others, the Torah teaches us that the key to happiness comes from focusing on the blessings in our own lives and not comparing ourselves to others. Additionally, we see an added benefit from this in that as long as we are focused on our own blessings, we are impervious to the curses of others. May we merit take this incredible message to heart!
– Rabbi Liad Braude