Morning Blessings: The Evil Friend & The Evil Neighbor
These two- Balak and Bilam- can be compared to two people, one who had a knife but was not able to locate the animal’s joints [i.e, where to cut], and the other who knew where the animal’s joints were but did not have a knife. Similarly, Balak saw the places where Israel would be vulnerable, as it is stated, “And he led him up to Bamot Ba’al”, for he saw that Israel is vulnerable there, but he was lacking a knife. Bilam had a knife, but he did not see the place. (Midrash Tanchuma, Balak #11)
There were two things needed to cause Israel’s downfall; knowing where and when Israel would be weak, and knowing how to strike. Balak observed and saw what could potentially be Israel’s vulnerable point; Bilam had the tools to strike.
In the Morning Blessings, we ask God to save us from the evil neighbor and the evil friend. Although the evil neighbor is usually a reference to the negative influences of one’s surroundings, maybe it also points to one who is strategically placed to observe our every move, one who is familiar with our territory and our routine and knows where and when we are most vulnerable. On the other hand, the evil friend knows us from the inside, he knows exactly which techniques will work, and has the emotional ammunitions necessary to cause our demise.
Our evil inclination is a combination of both. It is both a Balak, who knows how to “locate the joints”, and a Bilam, who “yields the knife”. It is both the neighbor and the friend. The way to counteract it is by using the same exact tools. We too, must be aware of when and where we are most susceptible to fall. We know where and we know when, because we have been there before. And we know how; we know what weakens our resolve, and we know what clouds our perspective.
It is only with this awareness that we can transform a potential threat to our spiritual well-being into an experience of growth; an enemy’s curse into a blessing.