The lessons of Bilaam the Prophet, his talking donkey, and the angel who stood in his way, are immense and valuable. Bilaam was a wicked man who was graced with Divine powers. Instead of using them for good purposes, he employed them to curse others, to build up his personal prestige, and gain wealth through illicit actions. Nevertheless, Hashem sent an angel of mercy to protect him and turn his heart away from sin. Hashem sends warning signals to each and every one of us on a daily basis. Some are meant to protect us and some are meant to harm us. It is up to us to make the correct choices in our lives, so that the angels who are sent are “Angels of Mercy” and not, G-d forbid, “Angels of Death.”
After his emigration from Morocco to Eretz Yisroel, the holy Baba Sali, Chacham Rabbeinu Yisroel Abuchatzeira zt”l, would often travel around the country visiting the graves of tzadikim spread out throughout the land. He would generally sit in the back of the automobile, quietly engrossed in Torah and Tefilah, while a driver would take him to his preferred destination. On one occasion, there was a loud noise that was heard near their car, which alerted the driver to their passing of a large and heavy truck nearby. The truck was filled to capacity with crates of succulent oranges. The Land of Israel is known for its orange orchards and Jaffa oranges are enjoyed throughout the world.
Suddenly, the driver heard a voice from the backseat. “Stop the car,” ordered the Baba Sali, in a clear and strong voice. The driver dutifully stopped driving, pulling over to the side of the road, waiting to hear further instructions.
“Please ask the truck driver for an orange.” The Chacham’s driver was surprised at this unusual request. Ordinary pleasures of this world never had a place in the ascetic mystical life of the pious Tzadik. And suddenly, he was requesting an orange. Additionally, the truck had pulled ahead and it would be a challenge to get him to stop. No doubt, there was a deeper meaning here. Nonetheless, the driver sped up and after a short time, succeeded in flagging down the truck driver.
After a pause that seemed inordinately long, a brawny tanned young Sabra stepped down from the truck. “What is it?” he asked impatiently as he walked over to the driver. “What do you want?” His voice was gruff.
“My friend,” said the driver of the Baba Sali, “I have a Tzadik in my car. He asks if you can give him one of your oranges.” The driver spoke somewhat meekly.
The tanned man looked inside the car’s window and saw the Baba Sali. Then, he straightened and said, “No way! I don’t give out no free food! Not for anyone! You pay, you get. That’s it!” The man climbed back into his truck and shifted his mighty load into gear. He sped away in a hurry to get to where he had to go, leaving them in the dust.
The driver and the Chacham also continued on their way. The rest of the trip was conducted in silence.
After about an hour, they reached the next junction, where a group of policemen were blocking the road. The driver rolled down his window and asked, “What happened here?”
The policeman replied, “A couple of minutes ago, a truck carrying crates of oranges careened through the junction. The driver had obviously lost control of the brakes and the truck crashed into a central electric pole. The entire front of the truck was demolished. Oranges went flying everywhere and the driver was crushed. They’re now trying to extricate the man’s body.” The Baba Sali’s driver was completely and utterly speechless. This was no coincidence. He turned back to face the Tzaddik and respectfully asked for an explanation.
“When the truck passed near us the first time,” replied the Chacham softly, almost tearfully, “I vividly saw the Malach Hamaves, the Angel of Death, hovering above it. I immediately understood that the driver’s life was in danger. I wanted to save him. I thought that if I took a fruit from him and made a blessing on it, the merit of him answering ‘Amen’ would stand in his stead and he’d be spared the hand of strict Divine Justice.
“Sadly, the driver didn’t agree. He forfeited this merit and see what a huge price he has paid.”