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Parshas Pinchas

Pinchas ben Elozar ben Aharon HaKohen (25:11)
L’fi she’hayu ha’shevatim m’vazim oso har’isem ben Puti zeh she’piteim avi imo agalim l’avodah zarah v’harag nasi shevet mi’Yisroel l’fikach ba ha’kasuv v’yichso achar Aharon (Rashi)

Rashi explains that after Pinchas killed Zimri, the Jewish people began to shame him by recalling the fact that his maternal grandfather (Yisro) had been an idolater. Therefore, the Torah specifically emphasizes his paternal descent from Aharon HaKohen. If the people knew of the law that zealots may kill one publicly engaged in relations with a non-Jewish woman, why did they insult him? If they were unfamiliar with the law and viewed him as a cold-blooded murderer, of what benefit was it to Pinchas to point out his paternal lineage, and in what way did it change the reality that one of his grandfathers had served as a priest for idol-worship and that in their minds, he had needlessly killed the leader of a tribe?

A number of commentators (Rav Meir Shapiro, Kometz HaMinchah, and the Maharshag) explain that the value of a mitzvah is measured by the degree to which its performance runs counter to one’s natural inclinations and therefore represents a more difficult test of his devotion to Hashem. It is for this reason that the Akeidah (binding) of Yitzchok is considered to be a test for Avrohom more than for Yitzchok (Bereishis 22:1). The central attribute of Avrohom’s Divine service was chesed – kindness, while that of Yitzchok was gevurah – strength. The willingness to personally sacrifice one’s own son to Hashem is difficult for any father, but its challenge was significantly more for one whose entire life was devoted to the trait of kindness, and it is for this reason that it is considered to be a unique test for Avrohom.

The Jews attempted to minimize the greatness of Pinchas’ act not by insinuating that he was a cold-blooded killer, but by hinting that it had come easy to him as a result of his being descended from an idolater who was accustomed to cruelly killing animals as part of his idol-worship. The Torah therefore emphasizes that this act was indeed performed with great personal difficulty and internal resistance, as his natural instincts came not from his allegedly merciless maternal grandfather, but rather from his paternal grandfather Aharon HaKohen – a man whose entire life was dedicated to the love and pursuit of peace.

The Lekach Tov (vol. Chaim Shel Torah) derives from this explanation the importance of adapting ourselves to the Torah and not attempting to interpret the Torah’s laws in light of our personal preferences. A person once remarked to Rav Yitzchok Hutner that the performance of certain mitzvos is too difficult for him, as they run counter to his nature and he is simply unable to change. Rav Hutner responded by likening this to a case of a motorist speeding down a highway who suddenly sees flashing lights in his rear-view mirror. He pulls over, and the policeman approaches and asks why he was driving 83 mph on a highway with a speed limit of 50. The man foolishly answers that he did nothing wrong, as the car was set to cruise control and he wasn’t even the one driving at that speed. The officer dismissed his specious defense by noting that he was the one to initially set the cruise control to an illegal speed.

Similarly, when a person comes before the Heavenly Court and attempts to justify his ways by noting that certain mitzvos ran counter to his very essence, he will have a difficult time explaining who was responsible for creating within himself a nature which runs counter to the Torah. While everybody has different mitzvos which specifically challenge them, the Mishnayos in Avos teach us that the strong person is one who conquers his evil inclination (4:1) and that the harder a mitzvah is for a person, the greater will be the reward (5:22), a lesson we should learn from the tremendous reward given to Pinchas for acting counter to his nature.


V’el B’nei Yisroel t’dabeir leimor ish ki yamus u’ven ein lo v’haavartem es nachalaso l’vito (27:8)

            A young man suddenly became ill and found himself on his death-bed. He realized that he hadn’t yet prepared a will regarding the division of his estate, and although he didn’t yet have any children, his wife was pregnant at the time. Uncertain as to the baby’s gender, he instructed that if his wife gives birth to a boy, the son should inherit 2/3 of his possessions, with the remaining 1/3 going to his wife. In the event that she would give birth to a girl, the daughter should inherit 1/3 of the estate, with the remaining possessions belonging to his widow. After he passed away, to the surprise of all, his wife gave birth to twins – one boy and one girl.

            Unsure as to how to adapt the deceased’s instructions to the strange turn of events, they approached the great Rav of Brisk, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, for guidance. He answered them that the solution is simple. The man made it clear that he wished any son he may have to receive two times the inheritance of his wife, while he also desired that his widow should inherit double the portion of any daughter she may bear. In light of this understanding, the estate should be divided into seven equal portions, with the son receiving four of them, the wife two, and the daughter one, just as the man himself would have wanted it!


V’nasata me’hodcha alav l’maan yishm’u kola das B’nei Yisroel (27:20)
Me’hodcha v’lo kol hod’cha nim’tzeinu l’meidin p’nei Moshe k’chama p’nei Yehoshua k’levana (Rashi)

            Rashi explains that while the face of Moshe was comparable to the sun, the face of Yehoshua wasn’t quite as great and was similar only to the moon. On this, the Gemora in Bava Basra (75a) adds that upon recognizing this, the elders of the generation remarked oy la l’osah busha, oy la l’osah k’limah – woe to us for this humiliation. It is difficult to understand why they only felt shamed upon noting this distinction, and why specifically Yehoshua made them feel this way and not the even greater Moshe.

            Rav Itzele Volozhiner and the Chofetz Chaim compare this to a case of a rich businessman who arrives one day in a small rural village, asking if anybody would be interested in becoming his partner in a new project. The businessman offered to put up all of the necessary funds and expertise, but merely desired a hard worker to assist him with managing and running the business. Most of the residents were content with their simple lifestyles and were skeptical about the man’s promises of fame and fortune, so they passed on the offer. One simple, illiterate villager decided that he had nothing to lose, and agreed to become the man’s partner. A few years later, the pair returned to visit the village, arriving in an impressive carriage and dressed in a manner which clearly revealed the success of their project. At this sight, the villagers were mortified and ran to hide.

They explained that they weren’t embarrassed by the wealthy entrepreneur, as they felt that his education and resources gave him advantages that they could only dream of. They were, however, quite shamed at the sight of the success and riches which had met their former neighbor, as they remembered all too well that they had been offered the same opportunity as he, but only he was wise enough to take advantage of it. The recognition of what they had had the ability to become and their failure to do so generated powerful feelings of humiliation.

Similarly, the Jews in the wilderness never measured themselves against the levels reached by Moshe, as they viewed the pious family into which he was born and the elevated soul with which he was blessed (as he lit up the house with light upon his birth) as bestowing upon him opportunities for greatness that they could never fathom. On the other hand, Rav Yehuda Zev Segal, the Manchester Rosh Yeshiva, notes that Yehoshua was neither the wisest nor the greatest of the generation. The Ramban (13:4) writes that the spies are listed in descending order of greatness, which means that Yehoshua was only 5th out of the 12 spies. The Baal HaTurim (13:3) writes that each of the spies was only a leader of 50 Jews, meaning that there were many greater Jews who led groups of 100 or even 1000.

Rather, Rashi explains (27:16) that Yehoshua was chosen on the basis of his devoted service of Moshe throughout the 40 years in the desert. Upon recognizing this, the Jews became aware of the levels which could be reached when a person who had been just like them used his talents to their fullest. The Vilna Gaon writes that the most excruciatingly painful experience a person goes through after his death is when he is shown a picture of what he was capable of and destined to become had he maximized his potential, which will stand in stark contrast to what he actually accomplished, and it was this humiliation that the Jews experienced upon the inauguration of Yehoshua as Moshe’s successor.


U’s’ir izim echad chatas mil’vad olas ha’tamid minchasa v’niska … u’s’ir chatas echad mil’vad olas ha’tamid u’minchasa v’niskah (29:16, 22)

            In the section describing the Korban Mussaf to be brought on each day of Sukkos, there is a peculiar difference in phrasing in reference to the goat which is brought each day as a Korban Chatas (sin-offering). Although this sacrifice is identical on each day of Sukkos – one male goat – the Torah refers to it as a ùòéø òæéí in reference to the 1st, 2nd, and 4th days of Sukkos, while calling it simply ùòéø when it is discussed on the 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 7th days of Sukkos. As the Torah is precise with every word it uses, this repeated change is difficult to comprehend.

            The Vilna Gaon offers a beautiful explanation for this linguistic curiosity. The Gemora in Sukkah (55b) states that beginning with 13 on the first day of Sukkos and declining by one on each successive day, a total of 70 bulls are sacrificed over the course of Sukkos, corresponding to the 70 nations of the world. The Zohar HaKadosh writes that all of the 70 nations are in some spiritual way included in either Yishmael or Eisav, and derive their strength from them. It also states that Yishmael is mystically referred to as s’ir izim, while Eisav is called simply s’ir, as the Torah itself refers to him as ish s’ir (Bereishis 27:11).

            As the Gemora explains that the concept of the 70 bulls is to represent the 70 nations of the world, all of whom descend spiritually from either Yishmael or Eisav, it seems appropriate to offer 35 bulls corresponding to Yishmael and 35 for Eisav. As Yishmael was the elder of the two, it is appropriate to begin by offering the 13 bulls on the first day on his behalf, and the Torah therefore refers to the Korban Chatas of that day as s’ir izim, which refers to Yishmael, and this is again repeated with the 12 bulls sacrificed on the 2nd day. However, if the 11 bulls of the 3rd day were also brought corresponding to Yishmael, he would already have 36 bulls, leaving only 34 for Eisav. In order to allow each to have a total of 35, the 11 bulls of the 3rd day are brought on behalf of Eisav, and therefore the Torah refers to the Korban Chatas on that day simply as s’ir. The 10 which are brought on the 4th day may be brought for Yishmael, as they bring the total number of bulls offered on his behalf to the desired 35, and the goat on the day is referred to for the last time as s’ir izim, leaving the bulls on the three remaining days to be brought on behalf of Eisav, in order to bring his total to 35, and they are therefore all referred to as s’ir!


Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     Of all of the brothers, Shimon and Levi were the ones most appalled by the immorality of what Sh’chem did to their sister Dinah, and they single-handedly avenged the crime, killing Sh’chem, his father, and all of the males in the town. A mere few generations later, Pinchas – a descendant of Levi – was jealous for Hashem’s honor and killed Zimri, the head of the tribe of Shimon, for engaging in forbidden relations with a non-Jewish woman. If both of the brothers seemingly acted together and equally, why was the descendant of one caught up in a similar act which his great-grandfather had risked his life to protest, while the descendant of the other remained pure and faithful? (Taima D’Kra and Shiras Dovid Parshas Vayishlach)

2)     The Torah instructs (26:55) that the land of Israel be divided among the tribes through a process of drawing lots. Rashi explains (26:54) that they did so by placing 12 pieces of paper with the names of each of the tribes into one box and 12 with the boundaries of the different portions of Israel into another box, with the lottery itself conducted through Divine Inspiration by the Kohen Gadol Elozar and the leaders of each of the tribes. Why was it necessary to use 12 pieces of paper, which includes the tribes of Gad and Reuven who by that time had already agreed to receive their inheritance on the other side of the Jordan River? (Mas’as HaMelech)

3)     Rashi writes (27:15) that in relating Moshe’s request that Hashem appoint an appropriate successor, the Torah is emphasizing his righteous ways. Even as he knew that his time to die was approaching, he neglected his own personal desires in order to focus on the nation’s communal needs. How can this be reconciled with Rashi’s comment immediately thereafter (27:16), in which he explains that Moshe’s rationale in asking for a successor was to request his personal needs, namely that his sons should inherit his leadership role? (Meged Yosef, Yad Av)

4)     On Rosh Chodesh, a total of 10 animals are to be brought as a Korban Olah (two bulls, one ram, and seven lambs), while only one goat is to be offered as a Korban Chatas (28:11, 15). In the Mussaf prayers recited on Rosh Chodesh, we petition Hashem to restore the Beis HaMikdash and enable us to once again bring the special sacrifices of Rosh Chodesh: miz’beiach chadash b’Tzion tachin, v’olas Rosh Chodesh na’aleh alav us’irei izim na’aseh v’ratzon. Why do we refer to bringing one Korban Olah and multiple goats for a Korban Chatas when the Torah prescribes just the opposite? (M’rafsin Igri)

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