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THE ARAB NEXT DOOR
There were three advisers to Pharaoh in the plot against the Jews. Bilaam, Iyob, and Yitro. Bilaam advised to enslave the Jews. Iyob kept quiet. Yirto ran away. Bilaam was punished; he was killed by the sword by the Jews. Iyob suffered for not protesting. And Yitro was rewarded that his grandchildren would be part of the Sanhedrin. (Sanhedrin 106a)
Years later, when Bilaam came to curse the Jews, וַיַּרְא֙ אֶת־הַקֵּינִ֔י וַיִּשָּׂ֥א מְשָׁל֖וֹ וַיֹּאמַ֑ר אֵיתָן֙ מֽוֹשָׁבֶ֔ךָ וְשִׂ֥ים בַּסֶּ֖לַע קִנֶּֽךָ: (Bamidbar 24; 21) And he saw the Keni, (Yitro) and he came up with his Parable and he said, You settle with a stronghold, and you put your nest in the rock. What do these words mean?
Bilaam asked Yitro, Hey! You were with us in the plot! You were one of the boys! How did you merit to sit and be involved with such great people, with Moshe and Aharon? The Midrash answers with a parable. There was once a hunter that caught a bird. But the bird escaped and flew from the hands of the hunter. The hunter chased the bird, and the bird found a brilliant haven. It landed in the hands of the sculpture of the king. The hunter praised the wisdom of this bird on finding such a safe place; now the hunter could not capture the bird, for it was next to the bust of the king. And anyone who would try to catch it, could possibly damage the king’s statue. Bilaam said that Yitro was saved from the fate of his two counterparts by associating with G-dly people. (Shemot Rabbah 27/ 3)
Why is that so important? Why does it make such a difference in your life who you associate with?
A Jew and an Arab lived next door to each other, in a duplex. One day, the Jew decided he was going to sell his house. He started renovations. Everything grade A. Designers, workers, materials. The Arab neighbor also decided to sell, so he also started renovations. But the Arab did it all Grade B. Designers, workers, materials. They both finished about the same time. And they both put up ‘For Sale’ signs.
One day, the Jew enters his house, just as the Arab is going out. The Jew tells the Arab that he just sold his house. The Arab says, Wallah, I also just sold mine! How much did you sell it for? The Jew said, 600,000 dollars. How much did you sell yours for? The Arab says, I sold mine for 750,000. The Jew says , WHAT? How could that be? I renovated with Grade A; you renovated grade B, and you sold for more than I did?
The Arab smiled and said, “Its simple! When you sold your house, you sold a house with a neighbor who is an Arab. So you got 600k. I sold mine, and the neighbor is a Jew. So I got 750 k!
You do not even realize how the people you surround yourself with affect your life. They affect how you value yourself, your self perception, which is probably the most important factor in your psychology. They affect how you value your life. And they affect your choices.
וישמע יתרו כהן מדין – מה שמועה שמע ובא ונתגייר What news did Yitro hear and come and convert?…. It is not enough to just hear a good piece of Mussar and try to change by yourself. The main idea is to come, to join people who are the people you want to be like.