I was talking with a friend—we’ll call him Mendel—the other day, and he asked me if I’d heard of any job opportunities lately. I know he’s into computer programming and nothing immediately came to mind.

I thought about it a little more and remembered that a mutual acquaintance, let's call him Yaakov, works with 3D renderings. “It's not really the same thing,” I told myself. “It's a long shot, so why bother mentioning it?”

But, hey, who knows? So I mentioned it to Mendel, and gave him Yaakov’s number.

Long story short, Mendel did indeed follow up on my suggestion. He connected with Yaakov, and to everyone’s pleasant surprise he was able to arrange a job for Mendel in the field of virtual reality. I'm still not sure exactly how the two are related, but if it got Mendel a job, I'm happy.

Often, we think that a casual suggestion won't go anywhere, but it's still always worth trying. Sometimes, it can make all the difference.

Balak and Balaam

Parshat Balak begins with the Moabite king, Balak, who is nervous about the oncoming Israelites:

Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. Moab became terrified of the people, for they were numerous, and Moab became disgusted because of the children of Israel.1

Having witnessed what happened to those who previously stood in the way of G‑d’s people, Balak frantically looked for a way to stem the Jewish threat. He understood that conventional methods such as war wouldn’t work, so he figured he would beat the Jews at their own game.

This is where the main character of the story comes in—Balaam. The Bible’s most famous non-Jewish prophet, Balaam regularly communicated with G‑d. Most importantly, Balak knew that Balaam alone would be the biggest threat to the Jews. He could curse them with G‑d’s name and cut the Jewish bloom at its spiritual source.

It’s a long story, but in short, it was an epic failure. Balaam ended up blessing the Jews, and all’s well that ends well.

The curious thing is that the parshah is named “Balak.” Much ink has been spilled over why we would name an entire parshah in the Torah after a villain, but we’re not going to talk about that today. Instead, we’re going to ask an arguably simpler question: Why name the parshah after the secondary character? After all, Balaam is the main protagonist, both in stature and in screen time. If you read the verses, the entire story revolves around him.

Balak was, at best, a supporting character. While he may have deserved an Oscar for his role, why did he get the “Parshah Name” prize over Balaam, the main actor?

Blame the Creative Team

The short answer is that Balak came up with the idea, so he gets the credit, or, in this case, the blame. Yes, it was Balaam who possessed the power to actually do the damage, but it was Balak’s idea.

Balaam was far greater in stature than Balak. He was the only person in the entire world with the unique power to go toe-to-toe with the Jewish people, while Balak was just a schnook grasping at straws to save his own skin.

And yet, the parshah is still named Balak. Because ultimately, credit and/or blame really does go to the originator of the idea, regardless of how sophisticated the person implementing it may or may not be.

Don’t Hold Back

The lesson for us is obvious: If Balak gets an entire parshah in the Torah because of one diabolical idea, then certainly we should be able to rack up serious credit for giving good ideas and advice to others.

To add one more layer to the lesson, the dynamics between Balak and Balaam are very telling. Think about it: As argued above, Balak was a schnook relative to Balaam, yet he’s the one we remember.

The same applies to us. Not everyone was born to be an activist, a leader, or a bigshot. In fact, most of us are just “regular” people. You know, ordinary folks with families, jobs, homes, who try their best to mind their own business. Maybe one out of a hundred will be a bigshot CEO, an influencer, therapist, celebrity, or whatever other position might put you in the steering wheel of others’ lives.

But for the rest of us, our lives are just that: ours.

And so, when the opportunity presents itself to give advice or voice an idea that may be helpful to others, you shy away. You tell yourself, “Who am I to say anything? I’m sure they’ll figure it out on their own, or they’re consulting smarter and more sophisticated people than me.” With that, you let it go.

Or perhaps you have a great idea for your community shul or school, or a great plan that would make the carpool scheduling easier for everyone. But you hold back, figuring that you’ll leave it to the “smarter” and “bigger” people. “No one’s going to take me seriously anyway.”

Take a cue from Balak. He paled in comparison to Balaam. And yet, because he came up with the plan, he’s the one we blame.

Who knows? If you speak up, you may just get the credit.2