The Mitteler Rebbe, Reb Dovber of Lubavitch, was receiving guests for private audiences. Each chassid was given his time. Some asked for blessings for material things, others sought spiritual guidance. Suddenly, in the middle of his meeting with one person, the Mitteler Rebbe cut the audience short and left word for those waiting that he would not be taking other visitors for some time.

Perplexed, the chassidim bided their time in anticipation. From inside the Rebbe’s room they could hear deep sighs and heart-rending sobs.

This continued a prolonged time. Afterwards, the Rebbe called for the person whose meeting he had interrupted, spent some time with him, and then accepted other callers.

Some time later, he explained his conduct to those close to him. “When a person comes to me and complains about a flaw in his spiritual makeup, I help him by looking for a parallel deficiency in my own character. Even when my inadequacy is not as great as his, if I see a correspondence, we have a point of communication. I understand what I need to do to better myself, and so I can advise him on what he should do to better himself.

“When this person told me of his difficulties, I could not find any parallel to such a deficiency within my character, not even a remote association. On the other hand, I realized that if Divine providence was showing me this problem, it was because I had a connection to it. And so, I had to exert myself in introspection and personal analysis until I was able to discover a resemblance and see how to change. After I was able to deal with the difficulty as it existed within myself, I was able to help the other person as well.”

For the Mitteler Rebbe, insight into another person’s difficulty came hand in hand with his own efforts to attain spiritual refinement. He would not just sit back and give abstract spiritual counsel. Instead, not only the seeker, but also the Rebbe himself had to be actively involved in growth and character development.

Parshas Balak

This week’s Torah reading focuses on the blessings given the Jewish people by the gentile prophet Balaam. Balak, the king of Moab, feared that the Jews would attack him and his people on their way to Eretz Yisrael, and so he hired Balaam, a gentile prophet, to curse the Jews. Although Balaam sought to do Balak’s bidding, whenever he prepared to deliver curses, G‑d put blessings in his mouth and he was forced to utter them. So powerful were his blessings that they are recorded in the Torah for eternity and some have taken their place in our prayers.

When Balaam saw that G‑d would not allow him to curse the people, he sought to harm them in another way. “Their G‑d,” he told Balak, “hates immorality. Have your women seduce their men.”

Balak did that and as a result, a plague beset the Jewish people, killing thousands.

Our Sages ask, “Why did G‑d bestow spiritual insight and gift of prophecy upon a wicked man like Balaam?”

They explain that in the future, the gentiles will complain to G‑d, telling him that the Jews were granted prophets and therefore they were able to advance spiritually. G‑d will answer that it was not the gift of prophecy alone which caused the Jews to advance. For He also granted the gentiles a prophet, Balaam, and what did he do? Instead, of helping the people advance spiritually, he encouraged immorality.

Implied within the narrative is an important lesson for all time. Spiritual insight cannot be seen as separate from a person’s conduct. The concept of a knowing wizard, aware of spiritual reality and yet living a depraved existence runs contrary to Judaism’s fundamental thrust.

Judaism sees spiritual awareness as a tool to enhance and intensify one’s day-to-day experience, not merely a lofty spiritual plateau. Whatever spiritual insight and experience one has must be applied in deeper and more meaningful conduct. Spirituality is not a high to be enjoyed, and then ignored. Instead, it must be incorporated in the way we build our relationships, establish our families, and forge our role in society at large.

The lesson is two-fold:

a) Those seeking spiritual experience must realize that this should lead to a deeper commitment to moral life at home and at work.

b) Those who work to promote family values and moral truth should focus on the spiritual component of these values and truths and understand that such awareness can enhance and intensify the power of their message both for themselves and for their students.

Looking to the Horizon

Included in the blessings conveyed by Balaam is the verse: “A star shall shoot forth from Jacob, and a staff will arise within Israel,” which our commentaries interpret as the most explicit reference to Mashiach in the Torah.

The question arises: Why is Mashiach’s coming associated with Balaam’s prophecy? Balaam was an immoral man who sought to harm the Jewish people. Seemingly, it would be much more appropriate for the message of Mashiach to have been conveyed by Moses or another Jewish leader.

This message is, however, associated with Balaam to show how encompassing the concept of Redemption will be. The Redemption will not be for only a few select righteous men, or a spiritual elite. Nor will its effects be confined to the Jewish people alone. Instead, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the ocean bed.” All existence will be permeated with the awareness of G‑dliness.

What does this mean in practice? At present, we view our lives in material terms — what we see, hear, and touch — and therefore these physical entities are the primary focus of our thoughts. We understand that there is a spiritual purpose to our lives, and we may even appreciate that G‑dly energy is maintaining our existence. This, however, is a secondary factor. For the overwhelming majority of humanity, going to work in the morning and providing food for one’s family is a much more pressing reality than spiritual consciousness.

When Mashiach comes, this will change. Everyone will become acutely aware of G‑dliness. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev once said: “G‑d, how can You blame people for not paying attention to the spiritual? You let people see and taste the pleasures of the material world while You put spirituality in books. Are You surprised how people live their lives? Reverse these factors and see what will happen!”

That’s precisely what will transpire when Mashiach comes. The material framework of existence in which we live will continue uninterrupted, but we will become conscious of the G‑dly forces that maintain it. That awareness will be granted to everyone. Just as we are aware of material things today, when Mashiach comes, we — and all mankind — will be aware of the spiritual. It will be our natural way of perceiving and appreciating the world.

To allude to these concepts, the prophecies of Mashiach were conveyed by Balaam. This demonstrates that even a non-Jew whose character is not refined will share a connection to the revelations of Mashiach, for Mashiach’s coming will affect all humanity.