The Midrash relates the argument Bil’am used to try to convince God to side with the nations of the world against the nation of
God answered, the Midrash tells us, with a pasuk from Mishlei, “טוֹב פַּת חֲרֵבָה וְשַׁלְוָה־בָהּ מִבַּיִת מָלֵא זִבְחֵי־רִיב/Better dry bread and peace than a house full of contentious celebrations.” (Mishlei 17:1) The Midrash explains the metaphor. The dry bread represents the nation of
This answer seems to beg the question though for if each nation truly submits to God, why would God prefer
Sincerity, then, differentiates us from the nations of the world. God prefers our worship to theirs since it is sincere. The nations of the world use their submission to God as a springboard for self aggrandizement. The nation of
Conventionally, a lowly soul – נֶפֶשׁ שְׁפֵלָה – one of the good character traits that Avraham Avinu teaches his students, is one who spurns the base desires and temptations of the physical world. Bil’am, Chazal tell us, had an expansive soul – נֶפֶשׁ רְחָבָה. He surrendered to his physical desires and used his stature to do so.
The Sfas Emes, however, gives us a deeper understanding of a lowly soul. Unlike Bil’am, it is one who does not use his work to come close to God in a self serving way. Of course, he will not use his service to God as a way of satisfying base desires. He also will not use his service to God as a means for reaching higher spiritual levels and gaining more spiritual power. Unquestionably, as a byproduct of his work, he will reach higher spiritual levels. But these achievements are not his goal. Instead, he uses those levels to further subordinate himself to the infinite God.