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Balak: Seeing Only the Good in Others

מה טובו אהליך יעקב משכנותיך ישראל

“How good are your tents, Yakov; your dwelling places, Yisroel!” (Bamidbar 24:5)

The verse repeats the same thought, using two different phrases. What is the meaning behind the words “tent” and “dwelling places”, and what is the difference between the two names of the Jewish people, “Yakov” and “Yisroel”?

In a previous verse (23:21), it says, “[Hashem] does not look at the sins of Yakov, and He doesn’t look at the troubles of Yisroel; Hashem his G-d is with him.” Once again, we must ask why Bnei Yisroel are first called Yakov and then Yisroel.

These verses convey a powerful message to us, which can be understood with the following anecdote:

A person related this story to the Skverer Rebbe zt”l, about the tzaddik Rebbe Yakov Moshe of Kamarna zt”l: “Our father once traveled for business, and he was supposed to come home by a certain date. Our mother, along with us children, waited for him to come home, but he didn’t show up. After several days passed with no sign of our father, our mother became extremely worried. She started imagining the worst and was afraid that something dreadful must have happened to him on the way home. She knew that Father was a good husband and she was sure he did not intentionally abandon his family. In desperation, she went to the Kamarna Rebbe zt”l and poured her heart out to him.

“The Kamarna Rebbe closed his eyes for a moment, and then he suddenly declared: ‘You’ve got nothing to fear. Your husband is healthy and well, and he will be home shortly.’ He then told our mother exactly where our father was at that very moment.

“Several days later, Father indeed came home. Our mother asked him where he was at that specific moment when she was at the Kamarna Rebbe, and Father told her. It turned out that the Rebbe was right, and he knew exactly where our father was at that time.”

When the Skverer Rebbe heard this story, he exclaimed: “If only we would have such great tzaddikim nowadays, who could see things that are far away and tell us what is going on!”

The Kamarna Rebbe and his holy father, Rebbe Elizer Tzvi tz”l, were both known for their tremendous power of ruach hakodesh – the power of knowing about hidden things through Divine inspiration. But in addition to this they were also especially known for their ahavas Yisroel; their love towards every fellow Jew knew no bounds. They always focused on the positive qualities that every person has, and tried to see only the good of the Jewish people. These two things are interconnected; a person who sees only the good in others merits “seeing” things through Divine inspiration. A person who focuses on the goodness of the Jewish people is empowered by Hashem to help these people with their troubles and problems.

This is what the verse is telling us. The name Yakov, which symbolizes weakness, is a lesser name than Yisroel, which symbolizes leadership and sovereignty. One who doesn’t “look at the sins of Yakov” but uses his eyes to see only the good in others, even when they are not on such a high spiritual level, such a person will merit removing the “troubles of Yisroel, for Hashem his G-d is with him.” He will enjoy Hashem’s presence always, and help bring the Jewish people up to the level of Yisroel.

The word אהל – tent, spells out the words לא הביט און – which means “not looking at sin.” The word משכנותיך – dwelling places, has the same letters as כנשמותיך – like your souls. The verse is teaching us: How good are your tents Yakov! How good is it for the person who practices what the word “אהל - tent” stands for and “doesn’t look at the sins of Yakov” even when people are less than perfect. Instead of seeing the faults of other Jews, he remembers that כנשמותיך – they all have pure souls. Even if they lack perfection in some areas, he remembers that their souls are pure. And therefore, because he focuses on the good in every Jew, he merits helping them out of trouble.

I was fortunate to be present when the late Skulener Rebbe zt”l visited the Krasner Rav zt”l one summer long ago. The Krasner Rav mentioned a teaching of his Rebbe, the Huniader Rav, who said: “Everyone is waiting for Moshiach, but it says in Yeshaya (11:3) that when he will want to come, he will ‘smell’ the world. Surely, he will want to escape. He will be unable to bear the terrible stench of sin that permeates this world. There will be very few people who will run after him…”

When the Skulener Rebbe heard this, he commented: “Without intending to contradict your Rebbe’s words, it does say that Moshiach will smell the world, but it says, ‘and he will smell fear of G-d.’ Moshiach will focus on the good of the Jewish people - on their fear of Heaven!” As we’ve said before, Moshiach too will only focus on the good in us, and choose to look away from our sins. May he come speedily, in our days.

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