By Rav Hillel Van-Leeuwen, Educational Director, Mizrachi World Movement
At the end of his first blessing, Bilaam says:
“Who can count the dust of Jacob, or count the dwellings of Israel;
May my soul die an honest death and may my end be like theirs” [Bamidbar 23:10].
Why does Bilaam wish to die an honest death rather than live an honest life?
The holy Ohr HaChayim provides us with an answer:
He [Bilaam] wished to repent and be as the honest among the nations at the time of death. And because he knew his own character, which was extremely evil, he knew it was beyond him to change his ways and become honest, and therefore wished for something practical – that at least on his deathbed he’ll repent and then die as an honest man. Similarly, I have seen with my own eyes sinners who told me explicitly that they would repent if they knew they would die immediately thereafter, but they can’t trust themselves to continue living in a righteous way due to the evil inclination who has trapped them in his net…
Amazing! People who do not believe in themselves have a hard time repenting.
Reb Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin [died 1900 in Poland] writes in his book Tzidkat HaTzadik that just as we must believe in HaShem, likewise we must believe in our own goodness and in our own abilities. We must remind ourselves that HaShem has a life-long investment with us, and that we therefore must be worth a lot in his eyes. We probably have tremendous powers and strengths.
In the shortest clause in his book Orot HaTshuva [14, 4a] Rav Kook makes a bold statement:
Most of our failures come from a lack of belief in the power of repentance.
Bilaam didn’t believe in his ability to repent. Do we?