Bilam is hired by Balak to curse Am-Yisroel. Hashem doesn’t allow him to do so and instead he ends up blessing Am-Yisroel multiple times. In the midst of one of his Brachos he asks that he (Bilam) should die the death of the righteous. This apparently means that he wished to die as a Tzadik.
Someone once asked the Chida for a brocho to die a Tzadik. The Chida answered heaven isn’t merely based on ones dying a Tzadik rather it is mostly based upon ones living their life as a Tzadik.
Bilam was perhaps one of the wisest men who ever walked the face of the universe. How was it that Bilam missed the point and was able to ask just to die as a Tzadik without living as a Tzadik?
My father Shlita has pointed out many times a fundamental difference between Avodas Shamayim and Avoda Zara: in both cases sacrifices are offered to some sort of power and the powers are somehow worshiped. Is the whole difference just that those who worship idols are misled to believe that sticks and stones are the true powers?
My father answers that no – there is a completely different approach to Avoda Zara than to Avodas Shamayim Lehavdil. When one worships Hashem one understands that Hashem is the Master of the Universe and that Hashem’s Divine Will must be met. An Oved Hashem realizes that his purpose in life is completely and exclusively to serve Hashem. As such the Oved Hashem understands that the only way to live life is by conforming to Retzon Hashem. An idol worshipper on the other hand, lives in a ‘me-centered’ world. He believes that there are multiple arbitrary forces (divinities) out there that must be kept content so that they don’t interfere with his narcissistic life. Thus he worships these forces only as a means of buying them off, to allow himself continued and uninterrupted self-indulgence.
Before each time Bilam attempted to curse Am-Yisroel he offered Korbanos to Hashem so as to try to ‘buy off’ (Chalila) Hashem.
Bilal’s worshiped Hashem, yet he didn’t perform Avodas Hashem. Bilam applied the approach of Avoda zara to his Avodas Hashem. He centered life around himself. Bilam’s only efforts to worship Hashem were mere attempts at appeasing Hashem to allow him to live as he wished.
Bilam asked that he should receive the world to come as do Tzadikim. Bilam thought that the world to come could be bought as well. Bilam did not realize that Olam Haba is built through rewarding work.
A very warm Good Shabbos, Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowski