In parshat Balak, we read about the wicked Balaam, a man who set out to curse the Jewish people but ended up blessing them instead.

What are some of the lessons we can learn from this story?

An Eye for an Eye

When G‑d created the world, He set it up in such a way that there be a balance between good and evil. Because He gave the Jewish people Moses, He gave the idol-worshipping nations of the world the wicked Balaam as an “equalizer.” Balaam was the opposite of Moses, and our sages say that Balaam was a ra ayin, he had an “eye for evil,” and Moses was a tov ayin, he had an “eye for good.”

Having a tov ayin means that one finds the good in everything. Even if a person who does a lot of bad, all that is outwardly seen is bad, a tov ayin is able to find the little bit of good and highlighting it, even if it meant looking into the deepest, hidden recesses of the man’s heart. He is able to find it and make it the focus until it affects the person, transforming him into good.

A ra ayin is the opposite. He finds the bad in everything. Even if a person who is completely good, the ra ayin can find the little bit of bad lying latent in the deepest recesses of his heart and accentuate that. He makes that the focus, bringing the good person to, G‑d forbid, commit a sin.1

We each have the ability to go either way. Of course, we should be like Moses, but when one is exhausted or hurt, it is very easy to go the other way. At times like these, you have to muster the strength to be a tov ayin.

In a a relationship, a husband and wife should always try to see the good in each other. This is even (and especially) when the going gets tough.

Modest Is More

What caused Balaam to bless the Jewish people?

He saw the modesty of the Jewish people. He saw how their tents were set up in a way that the inhabitants of one tent couldn't see into another, allowing all to have their privacy.2 This is a very basic level of modesty, yet moved Balaam so much that although he was wicked and a ra ayin, he nevertheless blessed the Jewish people. And how far did it move him? It had such a profound effect on him that he prophesied the coming of Moshiach.

The lesson here is the power of the smallest amount of modesty. In a couple’s married life, it is important to create and establish your own private space, and to give each other the privacy that he or she needs.3

This is so important that we begin our prayers every day with the words that Balaam said when he saw the modesty of the Jewish people, Mah tovu,4 “How good are your tents, Jacob.”

The private unit of a married couple is so holy that it is the foundation of the family and it leads to the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.