When Bila’am was traveling on his donkey to curse the Jewish nation, Hashem sent His angel of mercy to stop him (22:22). Despite his donkey refusing to move and miraculously speaking to him, Bila’am still didn't get the message that Hashem did not want him to proceed, and he carried on with his evil mission anyways.

Earlier in the parsha, Bila’am himself had attested that if Hashem did not want him to curse the Jews, he would be utterly powerless to do so (22:18). After all of these open signs from Hashem, how did he remain so oblivious to the fact that Hashem clearly did not want him to continue with his wicked plans?

Additionally, the Torah states that what convinced Bila’am to undertake this mission to curse the Jews, was the honor and prestige that king Balak accorded him (22:14-19, 37). Now, Bila’am was already accorded the highest honor imaginable by Hashem Himself, who chose him to be, and maintained him with, one of the greatest levels of prophecy imaginable, equal almost to that of Moshe Rabbeinu! He had so much going for him. How could he forfeit so much and agree to try and attack Hashem’s special people just for some honor from king Balak? How could he be so oblivious to the infinitely greater honor that he already had, by being Hashem’s greatest prophet for the gentiles in history?

We can answer this by addressing a common problem: When one is struggling with a difficult circumstance, and in today’s sometimes overwhelmingly hectic world, how can one stay focused on recognizing all of the good that he has in his life? What is the key to avoiding Bila’am’s mistake of completely overlooking all that Hashem had already given him?

An old tale is told of a man who felt very despondent over his bad mazel (the fortune that Hashem allotted to him). He decided to go meet with the Sar Ha’mazelos - the officer in charge of mazel - to plead his case. As he traveled, he decided to take a rest underneath a certain tree. The tree noticed the man looked upset and asked what was wrong. The man explained that he had very bad mazel and he was going to see the Sar Ha’mazelos. "Oh, maybe you can ask him about my problems, too," the tree said. It explained that recently the fruits it produced had been low quality, and this was causing it great distress. The man said he would ask about the tree's fruit.

Later on in his journey, he met a princess, who asked him why he looked so troubled. He explained that he was going to the Sar Ha’mazelos to ask about his bad mazel. Like the tree, the princess asked that he inquire about her, as she too felt unhappy with her life. The man said he would ask the Sar Ha’mazelos about her.

Soon thereafter, he came upon an old lion, who said it had not been feeling well. When the lion heard the man was going to speak with the Sar Ha’mazelos, it asked that he inquire about him as well, and the man said he would.

Finally, the man came before the Sar Ha’mazelos and described to him his situation. The Sar Ha’mazelos told him, "The truth is you have wonderful mazel, but you just don't see it. Work on this, and you will truly be happy". The man then asked about the tree, the princess, and the lion, and the Sar Ha’mazelos gave advice for each one of them.

On his way back home, he met the tree, which was anxious to hear what the Sar Ha’mazelos said. "He said that there is a treasure buried underneath you," the man told the tree, "and it is interfering with your roots, which is affecting the quality of your fruit”. "Great," the tree said, "so just dig up the treasure, and that way you keep the treasure and I will have good fruit”. "Sorry, but I don't have time," the man said. "I have to go deal with my own bad mazel first”. Then the man met the princess, and told her what the Sar Ha’mazelos said: "Once you get married, your husband will bring you good mazel and you'll have a wonderful life”. "Great," the princess said, "so why don't you marry me so I can have good mazel?". "I can't get married now," the man said. "I have to worry about fixing my own mazel first”. The man then met the old lion, and told him what the Sar Ha’mazelos said about him: "You will have great mazel once you eat a person who does not appreciate his mazel." The lion promptly ate the man and was healed.

The man in the story was always in such a rush, and so caught up in his sorrow and negativity, that he failed to realize the blessings and opportunities that were right there in front of him. He could have had a treasure and married the king's daughter, but he was too busy and convinced of his troubled life to take advantage of these opportunities. Similarly, we too often get so busy and so caught up with the negativities in our lives and our search for something “bigger and better”, that we overlook the vastly greater positives that we already have.

Similarly, Bila’am was too hungry for even more honor, and in too much of a rush to stop and think, that he truly acted irrationally. The Sages explain that Bila’ams sin (discussed in 22:32-35) that he never took the time to think about all that He had, and all that Hashem was communicating to him (see Malbim). Although his actions may seem silly to us, they are far from uncommon.

Living Inspired

If someone stopped you and asked “what color was the shirt of the person you just passed?”, we often couldn’t answer. Why? Simply put, as smart as we are, our brains aren’t capable of internalizing the millions of details that it processes (colors, textures, fragrances, sounds, etc.) at any given moment, unless we make an effort to do so.

Internalizing all of the blessings we have in our lives, and the incredible happiness that this comprehension affords, is no exception to this rule and is just like that person’s shirt color. Unless we make a conscious effort to focus on and internalize it, we will never truly process it, as the episode with Bila’am clearly illustrates. Instead, our blessings will be like any other detail in our lives: we will cognizant of it, but never truly take it to heart.

This is why despite the relatively unprecedented wealth and luxuries found in this generation, there is also an unprecedented amount of depression and sadness. One tends to push himself to be SO busy, that he rarely takes the time to actively internalize all of the blessings that he already has. This makes the effect of our blessings on our happiness practically non-existent.

May we all take the time to slow down and smell the roses. Let’s take a few moments EACH AND EVERY DAY to contemplate how much we already have and how truly blessed we are; For this is the ONLY way to truly live a happy life, and to be defined as one who follows the ways of Avraham Avinu, instead of Bila’am Ha’rasha (Avos 5:19. See R’ Ovadyah Mi'Bartinura).