Ever heard of the portmanteau of friend and enemy, “frenemy?” It refers to “a person with whom one is friendly, despite a fundamental dislike or rivalry,” or “a person who combines the characteristics of a friend and an enemy.” We’ve all had one, haven’t we?
You’re trying to stick to a budget, and she tempts you with outings to the newest upscale restaurant. You’re about to end an unhealthy relationship, and she tells you it’ll be hard to find anyone better. You know what to do with your “frenemy,” right? Keep your distance.
What about the “frenemy” who is nearest and dearest? She is within you, and you have to deal with her every day. Never met her, you say? Start paying attention to your inner dialogue, and you might be quite shocked. It’s very likely some of the things you say to yourself, you would never say to a friend, perhaps not even an enemy.
In fact, your “frenemy” tends to show up when you’re about to reach a most desired goal – something you’ve worked for very hard. You are about to enter a negotiation, armed with research and all the pertinent details. But, just as you head toward your meeting, your self-doubt rears its ugly voice. The inner chatter starts and you begin to waver.
Gay Hendriks, author of “The Big Leap,” would qualify this as part of your “upper limit problem,” which is defined as our “inner thermostat for how much love, success and creativity we allow ourselves to enjoy.” In other words, a success comfort zone. Any time we try to push that comfort zone, our “frenemy” passionately protests in our so-called best interest.
This week’s Torah portion, Balak, begins with the Jewish people at the threshold of the Promised Land. Just before achieving that for which they’ve worked so hard, they are contested by their final enemy: the Moabite king, Balak. He hires the soothsayer and Jew-hater, Bilaam, to curse the Jewish people.
But, much to Balak’s chagrin, every time Bilaam opens his mouth great blessings emerge. Bilaam tried to curse the Jewish people three times. Prior to the first two attempts at cursing, Bilaam and G-d had a conversation, whereby G-d either instructed Bilaam what to say, or put the words directly into his mouth. Therefore, despite his utmost intentions and hatred, Bilaam only could utter words of blessing and praise for the Jewish people.
Given that things were not going his way, by the third attempt, Bilam decided to employ a different tactic. This time, Bilaam concentrated on the faults and transgressions of the Jewish people, trying to discredit them, overcome G-d’s benevolence, and whip up spiritual negativity against them.
How often are we our own Bilaams – in effect, cursing ourselves? Shame, blame and all that negative self-talk are never the paths to sustained change or growth. So what is? Perhaps, in Bilaam himself, we find the answer.
After he was all fired up, Bilaam lifted his eyes to blast the Jewish people with his “evil eye” (Rashi on Bamidbar 24:2). But, when he lifted his eyes and looked – truly looked – Bilaam noticed a moving sight. He saw order. He saw righteousness. He saw goodness. He saw respect for privacy and dignity. Bilaam saw a new reality, a G-dly reality, and his curse was transformed into blessing. The Torah states, “Bilaam changed his mind to be like G-d” (Bamidbar 24:2), and, as a result of the transformation, the final blessing came forth:
“How goodly are your tents, O Jacob; your dwelling places, O Israel” (Bamidbar 24:5).
Articulated by Bilaam, this is one of the most well-known Torah verses, and part of the daily morning prayers. I believe it is there, in part, to remind us of the lesson we learn from Bilaam: When it comes to growth and positive change, congruence with G-d’s perception of us is key.
Indeed, just a few lines prior to saying Bilaam’s beautiful blessing every morning, we acknowledge the soul G-d placed within us is “pure.” The more I love myself – my real self, my G-dly self – and the more order, righteousness and good I see when I look within, the more I will align my actions to be congruent with that vision.
We all have the potential to enter our personal “Promised Land” and accomplish immensely more than we fathom. Thus, G-d, with tremendous faith in us, gives us back our “precious soul” every morning. During the first moments of consciousness we say: “I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.”
The friend in you – your transcendent G-dly soul – wants you to succeed and go beyond your comfort zone. She gives you courage, inspiration and motivation to complete your mission. But, if the enemy within comes to taunt you, and you feel enveloped by a curse of negativity, remember even Bilaam’s curses were turned into blessings. Set your “frenemy” straight. Visualize and act according to your infinite G-dly potential, transforming the inner negativity and accursed self-talk into the greatest good for your life, and the lives of others.
This first appeared in The Jewish Herald Voice, July 18, 2019