In this week’s Torah portion we are told that that “G‑d happened upon Balaam.”

The hallmark of the careless, irresponsible person is the notion that something “just happened.” It’s not my responsibility, it just sort of happened. It is all too easy to find oneself denying one’s culpability -- blaming somebody else, or external circumstances -- anything to avoid taking responsibility and accepting that, ultimately, we are the ones to “blame” for whatever actions we take.

This may sound obvious, yet it is amazing how often we find ourselves denying this feeling of responsibility for our actions. It is an awesome burden, but one which nonetheless falls upon our shoulders, since our actions and decisions affect our own lives, not to mention those of others.

Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks relates the story of how he visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe many years ago. Rabbi Sacks told the Rebbe that “I find myself in such-and-such a situation.” The Rebbe seemed dissatisfied with this statement. After several more attempts, finally Rabbi Sacks said something to the effect of “I placed myself in such-and-such a situation.”

While everything that happens may be divinely ordained, the way we see things in our everyday lives we do not just “find ourselves” in a particular situation -- rather, we place ourselves there. Insofar as we have free choice, we are responsible for what happens once we get to that place where we supposedly just “found” ourselves.

We have seen such hatred and horror this past century; the only answer is a massive dose of kindness. As a friend of mine recently saw spray-painted on the wall of a train, “Do a random act of kindness.” Indeed, there is no better way to put it. It is only through kindness to others, through “random,” unconditional acts of goodness, that we can redeem ourselves and the world around us.

Things do not “just happen” -- we make them happen. The Torah tells us that every day the Temple is not rebuilt, it is as if it was destroyed that very day. Each of us has a constant obligation to improve the world around us, to participate in our own “rebuilding of the Temple.” G‑d set up the world in such a way that it depends upon our efforts and actions. It is up to us to make it a better place for everyone.