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Pirkei Avos: Rav Elyashiv Distinguishes Between Rebbi Yosi Ben Kisma's And Bilam's Similar Reaction To Money
The Mishna in Pirkei Avos (5:22) warns not to be greedy like Bilam. The Medrash Rabba proves that Bilam was greedy because he put money on the highest pedestal by saying even "if he received a house full of gold and silver he can defy Hashem's word."
Strangely in the following Perek the Mishna tells a story of Rebbi Yosi Ben Kisma who while on the road bumped into a person who offered him a vast fortune to come live in his city. His reply, eerily similar to Bilam, was that if he was given "all the gold, silver, precious stones, and pearls in the world he would only live in a Makom Torah. Why was this different than Bilam's attitude?
Rav Elyashiv in the Divrei Aggada answers that Bilam wanted to curse Bnei Yisroel but to show how tightly his powers were restricted he wanted to show that even the most important thing in the world cannot move him. That "thing" should have been life itself. By speaking of money he placed it ahead of life on his priority list.
Rav Yosi however was offered money to do something that was in his power to do if he chose. Not to go live in a city that is not a Makon Torah does not require one to give up his life. Therefore he responded that no pleasures in the entire world would lure him away from his precious Torah because money was not important to him.
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