The Pieta and The Pear

Jul 1st, 2011 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week, Spiritual Growth
Renaissance tourists visiting the magnificent Pieta – Pity – would overhear the cries of the victims of the Inquisition’s The Pear – an artistic machine of unbelievable horror – and rejoice in the purification of their faith. The study in contrasts was lost on them.

This week’s portion, Balak – offers an equally powerful study in contrasts: Moshe and Balaam. “There was never a prophet in Israel as Moshe,” not in Israel, but among the nations. Balaam was the greatest prophet of the other nations. Moshe used his prophecy to build. Balaam used his to destroy. Moshe was constantly searching to perform the will of God. Balaam was only interested in using his powers to have God help him achieve his selfish desires. Moshe concludes his life by blessing Israel. Even when he voiced his “curses” it was only as a rebuke a warning for those who did not serve God with joy. Balaam wanted to curse Israel who represented the antithesis of his values and goals.

We are often confronted with the powerful contrast between good and evil. We read the horrible stories of the Holocaust and can also find stories of great courage, heroism and altruism. We meet people who are sincere in their devotion to God and we often meet people who are interested only in power and prestige.

How do we react to such contrasts? Do we remain as calm as the Renaissance visitor, or do we take note of the contrasts in order to choose and affirm our choices.

My father zt”l once noticed that I was terribly upset by some horrible behavior I observed in a famous rabbi. He immediately took me to visit a simple and holy old man. “Whenever you see evil, search for an equally powerful example of good to restore your soul,” he told me. I try to follow his advice and take note of the beautiful people, actions and things I witness to have in my quiver for those moments when confronted by the Pear.

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