Balak 5781 – What have you done with your gifts?

Have you made the best use of the gifts God gave you?

I’ve been studying Midrash Tanchuma lately and came across an interesting teaching for this week’s parsha relevant to this question.

The main character in this week’s parsha is Balaam, a non-Jewish prophet. God communicates with Balaam just as clearly and explicitly as God communicates with the Jewish prophets.

The midrash tells us that one of the teachings from this week’s reading is that the nations of the world shouldn’t be able to go to God and complain that God gave Israel powerful kings, sages, and prophets, but short-changed them, and that’s why they’re not on the same spiritual level as Israel. To the contrary, the midrash says,

Just as He raised up kings, prophets, and sages for Israel, so did He raise them up from the nations of the world. Moreover, the kings, prophets, and sages that belonged to Israel were examined alongside the kings, prophets, and sages that belonged to the nations of the world.

Midrash Tanchuma, Balak 1

The midrash gives several examples:

  • He raised Solomon to rule over all the earth; did the same for Nebuchadnezzar, as it says in Jeremiah, “I even gave him the wild beasts to serve him.”
  • He gave David wealth, but he also gave wealth to Haman.
  • He raised up Moses for Israel, a prophet who could speak to him at any time; similarly, he gave the nations of the world Balaam, who could also speak with God at any time.

God’s gifts aren’t given exclusively to the Jews. We’re all the recipient of gifts from God. We obviously don’t all have the same gifts; some people are blessed with wealth, others with a quick mind, others with great compassion. But whatever gifts God has granted you, are you making the most of them? 

I personally find this a difficult question, one I’m not sure how to answer. I like to think I’ve done some good, but I’m sure I could do more as well.

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Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

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