My son was in the park in front of the shul last Shabbos watching two boys play ping-pong (it’s the "in-thing" now). A non-religious boy drives by on his hoverboard (“uh-verrrr-Board” in Hebrew) and stops to watch as well. Some of the kids start talking to him and asked him why there was a big dent in his hoverboard. He answered them and asked, “You’re allowed to look at the hoverboard on Shabbos?” Thy answered that they could, but that they cannot use it. He was a bit surprised by that answer, and they continued to talk about whatever 10-/11-year-old boys talk about. After a bit, they invited him to play a round of ping-pong with them. He happily agreed and “won” the game (the frum kid "must have" been having a bad game).
The time came when the boys usually go read Tehillim together in the shul and they invited him to come with. He got excited (he’s sphardi, that’s why) and joined them. He asked for a kipa and a place to keep his hoverboard and they provided everything he needed and even changed the way they say the Tehillim to have more of a sphardi overtone. They also had a raffle at the end, which he “amazingly” won. At the end, they offered to let him keep the kipa, and he responded that he doesn’t need it, since he has one at home which he’ll bring next week…without the hoverboard.
Whether or not he comes again this week, it’s good to see young boys having the maturity to act appropriately, and even go a bit "beyond the call of duty" (losing a ping-pong match on purpose is hard) to make another boy feel good and interested in Torah.
The Moshgiach from my yeshiva asked on this week’s parsha: What’s the point of Bilaam’s donkey? Why did Hashem need to make such a miracle and have it specifically in this story? In the story itself, the donkey doesn’t play much of a role in the big picture. Obviously, there’s a message here.
The Midrash explains that when Moshe was commanded to return to Egypt, he initially refused. First, he cited that Aaron was older and should be the leader. When Hashem had an answer for him, Moshe responded that he had an obligation to stay and help Yisro. After all, it was Yisro himself that took Moshe in, when Moshe was fleeing from Egypt. Since Moshe had hakaras hatov (debt of gratitude) to Yisro... how could he leave him?
Bilaam, the non-Jewish “counterpart” to Moshe, on the other hand was different. When he set himself to go to Moav, he went with enthusiasm. When his donkey saw an angel standing in the way, and refused to go any further, Bilaam started to beat the donkey. In turn, the donkey opened her mouth and said, “Am I not your donkey that you have ridden from your inception until this day? Have I been accustomed to do such a thing to you?”
An entire miracle was made just for the donkey to say this line. So, what was she saying? “Am I not your donkey that you have ridden from your inception?” I’m not a new donkey. I have taken you wherever you wanted to go your entire life without question or problem! “Have I been accustomed to do such a thing to you?” I have never given you reason to beat me. I’ve only done good for you and now, that I do something different, for your own benefit, you beat me!?
This is possibly what Hashem wanted us to learn from Bilaam. Moshe had hakaras hatov to his father-in-law Yisro for taking him in. Bilaam? He lacked this character trait. To him, the donkey was a donkey, and whether or not it had a history of doing good for him, he was simply going to beat it.
This is the importance of hakaras hatov. When somebody does good for us, it’s important that we remember this. How many marriages suffer because one partner refuses to recognize the good the other did for them for so many years, and choose to focus only on the negative. Employers often forget the good that their employees do for them (my boss reads this) and (sometimes) employees often forget the good that their employers do for them. Friends are no different.
When there is stress between two people, both sides need to step back and remember all the good that the other has done for them. With this, they can resolve their issues in a peaceful way.
Have a great Shabbos!