Could it be that Bilaam, the gentile prophet, saddled his own animal when he set forth to curse the Jews? (Numbers 22:21). For someone of his stature, a prophet, it certainly seems beneath his dignity.
Ibn Ezra, who is known for his literal readings of the Torah goes against his usual trend and offers a non-literal interpretation. “Va-yahavosh et ahtano” does not mean that Bilaam saddled his own donkey, rather, he instructed his servants to do so.
Rashi, however, sticks to the literal reading and insists that Bilaam did this labor intensive act on his own. Quoting the Midrash, Rashi writes: “From here we learn that hatred defies the rule (sinah mekalkelet ha-shurah), for he (Bilaam, who was so full of hate at that time) saddled it by himself.” In other words, the emotion of hate can cause one to do things that would otherwise be out of the purview of one’s normal behavior.
Unfortunately, we need look no further than events during the Holocaust to understand this point. When Germany was attacked by the allies from the West and the Russians from the East, it would have made sense that the Third Reich use every means at its disposal, every military weapon, every soldier, to resist. But it was not so. Hitler’s hatred of the Jews was so great, that he insisted the extermination of Jews continue. He continued spending precious human power and resources on genocide, rather than helping defend “the motherland.”
But, the Midrash points out the other side of the coin as well. Note that when God commands Avraham (Abraham) to sacrifice his son Yitzhak (Isaac), the Torah states, that Avraham “saddled his donkey, ve-yahavosh et hamoro” (Genesis 22:3). Here, too, Rashi wonders, is it possible that Avraham, would perform this menial task rather than ask one of his servants to do so. It is possible, says Rashi, as “love defies the rule (ahavah mekalkelet ha-shurah).” Avraham, our father, was so in love with God, so committed to following God’s command, that he does what he otherwise would not do.
The Midrash makes a final point: the hatred of the wicked is counterbalanced by the love of the righteous. In the words of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai: “Let the saddling done by Avraham counteract the saddling done by Bilaam” (Genesis Rabbah 55:8).
It is important to note that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai lived during the reign of the Roman Empire. He knew all too well the phenomenon of hatred toward Jews. Yet, he understood through his own life of commitment to God that there could be a counterbalance to this hatred—his love and the love of others.
Thank God for the good people. Their energy and drive to do the right thing neutralizes the passion of the wicked. During these difficult days, may we all be blessed with love that defies the rule.