There are two towering figures in the Torah that originate from the city of Aram in Mesopotamia. The first one is Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish people; the second is Balaam, the gentile prophet who is the protagonist of this week’s Torah portion.

While Abraham and Balaam were both great prophets who hailed from Aram, they could not be moreBalaam was a man full of hate different from one another. Abraham was a man whose heart was filled with kindness, a man who spent his life teaching love for G‑d and every one of G‑d’s creations. He looked for goodness even within the wicked people of Sodom. He journeyed to what would eventually become the land of Israel, on a mission to spread the awareness of G‑d and morality. Balaam, on the other hand, was a man full of hate. He possessed an “evil eye,” the unfortunate “skill” of seeing bad within people. He journeyed toward Israel at the request of Balak, king of Moab, who hired Balaam to curse the Jews.

Balaam’s journey to the hills of Moab is one of the most fascinating and unusual stories in the Torah, a journey that included multiple encounters with an angel of G‑d and a talking donkey. At the start of the journey, the Torah tells us:

In the morning, Balaam arose, saddled his she-donkey, and went with the Moabite dignitaries.1

When Balaam was called to Moab, so eager was he to curse the Jewish people that he didn't rely on his lads or servants. He saddled his donkey himself.

On the journey to the binding of Isaac, the climax of his devotion and love to G‑d, Abraham too saddled his donkey himself, as the Torah tells us:

And Abraham arose early in the morning, and he saddled his donkey, and he took his two young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for a burnt offering, and he arose and went to the place of which G‑d had told him.2

Rashi comments on this striking similarity in these very different circumstances:

[Balaam] saddled his she-donkey: From here [we learn] that hate causes a disregard for the standard [of dignified conduct], for he saddled it himself. The Holy One, blessed is He, said, “Wicked one, their father Abraham has already preceded you, as it says, 'Abraham arose in the morning and saddled his donkey.’”

Rashi is offering an insight that is relevant to each one of us. We sometimes experience intense negativity, similar to the hatred of Balaam, which can cause us to “disregard the standard.” The selfish, destructive forces within us can sometimes propel us to do things that are below the standard we set for ourselves, below the person we want to be. We feel helpless in the face of the intense urge “to saddle our donkey” in the service of negative energy.

Rashi is telling us that Abraham saddledAbraham saddled his donkey with intense passion his donkey with intense passion to fulfill the will of G‑d. And the intensity of this Abrahamic love that we all have within us “precedes” the hate of Balaam. Although we each possess both forces, the positive energy of Abraham is our essence, while the negativity of Balaam is just an externality that does not define our identity.

By emphasizing that both Abraham and Balaam saddled their donkeys themselves, the Torah teaches us that the way to overcome the negativity of Balaam is to awaken and reveal the Abraham within us. The Abrahamic passion will absorb the negative passion and transform it to fuel, intensifying our commitment to holiness and positivity. As described so poetically in the biblical story, Balaam’s curses were transformed into magnificent and beautiful blessings.3