In the beginning of this week’s Torah reading, Balak sent messengers to Bilam to request that he curse the Jewish Nation. Bilam told them that he cannot go without permission from God. At first, God told him that he may not go. But when Balak sent another delegation to Bilam, Bilam again sought permission to go, and this time God allowed him to go, as long as he would only say what God told him to. After he began his journey, the verse says (22:22) that God was upset about the fact that Bilam was going, and sent an angel to obstruct his path.

The Sin of Acting Against God’s Will

Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman asks (Kuntres Sofrim, 1:24): What was it that Bilam did wrong? After all, God had granted him permission to go, and at this point Bilam had not yet attempted to give any curses. Rabbi Wasserman answers that although God had technically given him permission, it was obvious that God was not pleased with this move. By Bilam going, he was disregarding the will of God. Even when there is no outright violation of God’s commandment, one must still adhere to the will of God. Acting against God’s will is a sin in and of itself.

You Should Desire That Which Hashem Desires

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (2:4), takes this concept a step further and says, “Make His will as your own will.” A person should work on conforming his desire to match the desire of God. The Orchot Chaim of the Rosh (69) instructs a person to conduct himself in this manner and says, “You should desire that which your Creator desires, be happy with your lot whether it is little or a lot, and you should always plea in front of Him to turn your heart to His laws.”

It All Stems From Love

This attitude is rooted in the concept of loving God. The Mesilat Yesharim explains (chapter 18) that if you truly love someone, you don’t look to shake off the duties you have for that person. You don’t look to absolve yourself with the bare minimum which you must do for that person. When you love someone, you care about that person’s wishes, and you seek to fulfill that person’s desire even in areas in which there was no explicit request from you. So too with God, a person is expected to cultivate his love for God to the point that he truly cares about God’s desire. A person who truly cares will make sure he does whatever he can to fulfill God’s will, and is not concerned with the letter of the law alone.

A Fear of Disappointing God

The Chasam Sofer says (Drashos, Vol. 2, p. 279, Sefirat Ha’omer) that when our Sages use the term “fear of Heaven” to refer to fearing God, it means “the same kind of fear that Heaven has.” Meaning to say, God is, so to speak, scared of causing us any pain. He doesn’t want to do it; He only wants to give us pure good. We too should be scared of disappointing God by doing anything which is against His will. This is how concerned one should be about God’s will.

The Vilna Gaon was once traveling, and he hired a wagon driver to bring him to a certain town. It was the eve of Purim, and he intended to get to the town before nightfall, in time to listen to the reading of the Megillah (Book of Esther) in the synagogue. But along the way, the wagon tipped over, and the wagon driver became very upset with his passenger. In order to protect himself from the wagon driver’s rage, the Vilna Gaon had to flee by foot to the nearest town.

By the time he got there, he had missed the reading of the Megillah. He could have just read it on his own, but the preferable way is to do it in a crowd of ten. However, no one agreed to attend his reading until he paid them two gold coins each, up front. Soon after he started reading the Megillah, they picked up and left.

Years later, as he recounted the story, the Vilna Gaon would cry over the fact that he did not merit to read the Megillah in the optimal way that it should be done. This is the reaction of one who truly cares about God’s will.

More Than The Letter of the Law

This is a concept which is frequently overlooked. We all want to do what is right, and we judge our behavior to discern whether it is in line or not. But more often than not it’s just about ourselves. We want to feel good that we are doing the right thing and we don’t look beyond that. As long as we can legitimize our actions and do not see ourselves as transgressing any prohibitions, we are satisfied.

But in truth, our responsibility does not end there. We must take it to the next level and question ourselves, “Are we truly following what God wants of us? Is this something God will be happy with?” Many times, we will see that deep down we know that God really wants more from us, even when we can’t find an explicit law obligating us to act differently. We must make it our business to care about God and His will, and not just the letter of the law.

By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber

Please follow us and share:

Want constant access to online Torah and Jewish resources?

First Name: 
Last Name: 
Leave a Reply