Balak: The Left-handed Blessing
Without hesitating a moment, I said to the young, sobbing childless wife, 'May Hashem fill your home with the stench of dirty diapers'...
by Rabbi Lazer Brody
The young wife's sobs broke my heart in two. She had been married for four years and she just had her second miscarriage. The doctors told her that her chances of having successful births were slim. I was never the type of professional who is capable of remaining aloof of the problems that people bring to him; I take them to heart.
Big-name Rebbes had blessed the young wife, but she still didn't have children. I asked myself why their blessings hadn't been effective. At that moment, Hashem illuminated my brain with a teaching from Rebbe Nachman, which goes like this: sometimes, a great tzaddik blesses a person for something, but that blessing doesn't take hold because accusing angels intercept it on the way to the Heavenly throne. They take the blessing to the Heavenly Court and ask, "Does person so-and-so deserve this blessing?" The answer is frequently negative, since Hashem always gives us more than we deserve. So, the blessing disintegrates on the spot and never goes further.
To circumvent the accusing angels, Rebbe Nachman suggests that we give a blessing that doesn't sound like a blessing at all. Even if the accusing angels get wind of it, they'll leave it alone because it sounds negative. This is what I call the "left-handed blessing". Without hesitating a moment, I said to the young childless wife, "May Hashem fill your home with the stench of dirty diapers."
Several years passed. My wife answered a knock at our door. It was the young wife, her husband, a toddler holding his hand, a smaller toddler in a stroller and a baby in her arms. They wanted to speak to me...
Again, the young wife – now mother of three with number four on the way – was crying. "Rabbi, I don't know what to do. We're a Kollel family and we live on limited means. My children go through Pampers like we go through sunflower seeds on Friday night. We can barely afford food! So, when I try to get away with changing my kids less frequently, my home stinks of dirty Pampers!"
I was delighted – that was my exact blessing. Today, the couple has five children with their oldest son in yeshiva already.
I'm sure you get the idea. When we love a person and wish the best for them, we can give them a "left-handed blessing" to make sure that nothing obstructs it. Another one of my favorite left-handed blessings is, "May Hashem help you to wear out your Shabbat Clothes." We wear our Shabbat clothes to celebrations such as a bris or wedding; my hidden blessing is that the person should go from one celebration to another, seeing much joy from his offspring.
The "left-handed blessing" is the exact opposite of the wicked Bilaam's blessings in this week's Torah portion, "Balak." Hashem enabled the evil Bilaam to hook up with Balak, who hired Bilaam to curse the Jewish People. Bilaam wanted to curse, but Hashem forced the words to come out as a blessing. Yet, Bilaam hated the Jews and had nothing but curses in his heart. Our sages tell us that the wine picks up the taste of the vessel; a putrid vessel will ruin the best wine. In other words, if nice words come from a wicked heart, the result will be a curse. Conversely, as we learned in the "left-handed blessing", if harsh words come from a loving heart, the result will be a blessing.
The Gemara validates the above idea and says that every one of Bilaam's blessings turned out to be a curse (see Tractate Sanhedrin 105b).
With the above in mind, never be upset by a reprimand or harsh words from someone whom you know loves you unconditionally, like a grandparent or your spiritual guide. He is either giving you a "left-handed blessing" or he's trying to mitigate some stern judgment you might have brought upon yourself. Either way, it's all for the good. And even more so, since our Father in Heaven loves us so very much and unconditionally at that, we can be 100% sure that anything seemingly negative is none other than a "left-handed blessing" that will all turn out for the complete best, amen!
Rabbi Lazer Brody was born in Washington, D.C. in 1949. After receiving his bachelor's degree in agriculture from the University of Maryland in 1970, he moved to Israel and joined the Israel Defense Forces regular army, and served in one of the elite special-forces units. He is a decorated combat veteran of two wars and numerous of counter-insurgence and anti-terrorist missions on both sides of Israel's borders.
Rabbi Brody is the English-language editor of Breslev Israel's highly popular English-language website at www.breslev.co.il, and the founder and director of Emuna Outreach. Between Breslov Israel and Emuna Outreach, he devotes his time to spreading emuna and particularly the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev around the globe.
"Lazer Beams," Rabbi Brody's award-winning daily web journal, has been instrumental in helping tens of thousands of people around the globe find joy and fulfillment in their lives.