Dvar Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states:
What did Bilaam mean when he said this?
We see from this statement of Bilaam that he realized the truth that one should lead a righteous life. Why then did he himself not live righteously and only wished that he could die and be rewarded as the righteous?
Rabbi Simcha Zissel of Kelm explained that although Bilaam had an intellectual awareness of the proper way to live, in his own life he found this too difficult. Because he had faulty character traits, he was not able to live according to the ideas and principles he knew were true. (Chochma Umussar, vol.1, p. 78)
We see from here the importance of correcting one’s character traits. Without an awareness of what is proper and what is improper one cannot live righteously. However, even after one has studied and knows what is good and what is evil, he must be able to follow through in his daily behaviour. A person needs to be in control of his impulses. Having this mastery over one’s natural tendencies will enable a person to live according to his ideals. Lacking this, one will do all kinds of improper actions.
The problem is not one of knowledge, but of self-discipline. For this reason we must work on improving our character traits for only then will we be able to act righteous. The only way to die as a righteous person is to live as one, and to do this takes much self-discipline.