For from its origin, I see it rock-like, and from hills do I view it. (Bemidbar 23:9)
Balak said to him, “Go now with me to a different place from where you will see them…” (Bemidbar 23:13)
The nations of Midian and Moav were constantly at war with one another, but the approach of the Jewish people gave them cause to join forces. Balak, king of Moav, realized that the power of the Jewish people was their ability to pray with their mouths. He devised a plan to hire the prophet of the gentiles, Bilaam, to use his power of speech to curse the Jews. Three times Bilaam tried and three times he failed to curse our people. Each time Balak took Bilaam to a different location from where he could set his sights on the camp of Israel.
The first time he took him to a peak from where he could see the entire congregation of Israel in one glance. He hoped that Bilaam could utter the word “kalem” — annihilate them — and destroy the whole nation in a moment. After that plan failed, Balak suggested a location from which Bilaam could only view a portion of the camp. “Go with me now to a different place from where you will see them; however, you will see its edge but all of it you will not see; and imprecate it for me from there” (Bemidbar 23:13). His hope was that at least the sinners of Israel would be subject to his curse and thereby his reputation would be saved. Again he failed. The third time Balak did not take Bilaam to a place where he could actually see the potential victims; rather, he directed him to a place where the powers of idol worship were known to be potent, hoping that his spiritual view would provide success.
There are two types of “looks.” There is a fleeting glance which does not leave much of an impression and escapes from memory, and there is a deeply penetrating look which has a deep effect on the viewer for good or for bad. Bilaam had the evil eye, a look that modern terminology might dub “a look that can kill.” His intent was to use that power to harm our people. The plan was good, but the prophet Michah explains, “Oh, my people, remember now what Balak king of Moav planned, and what Bilaam the son of Beor answered him from Shittim to Gilgal; that you may know the righteousness of Hashem” (Michah 6:5). Balak attempted to utilize the place of Peor (idol) in the place called Shittim where the Jewish people sinned, in order to invoke the power of strict justice against the Jews. However, Hashem intervened and showed him the place called Gilgal, where the Jews did a mass circumcision upon entering the Holy Land. When he saw the positive side of our people — our adherence to the laws of the Torah — his ability to invoke evil was neutralized.
On the other hand, Moshe Rabbeinu gazed upon Miriam his sister and prayed to Hashem to heal her from her tzaraat. Moshe did not even have to say her name because he was looking at her when he said, “L-rd, please heal her, please” (Bemidbar 12:13). The good eye of Moshe prompted the healing of his sibling.
The Mussar masters have stressed how important it is for one to guard one’s eyes because of the potent effect that what one sees can have on a person. One should constantly train oneself to see the good in all one confronts. One can be certain that environment has a lasting effect on one’s attitudes and beliefs. By being positive, one develops in a positive way.
Harav Yisrael of Salant used to say that Hashem gave a person two eyes, one with which to see another’s good attributes and the other to view one’s own shortcomings. Unfortunately, too many of us reverse his advice. We see our strengths and become conceited while we always see another’s weaknesses. This reduces their value in our eyes while making us even haughtier. One should keep in mind that a fly that dwells in garbage spreads disease and infection while a bee that is always amidst sweet-smelling flowers produces honey. It’s a matter of having a nice view!