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 Parshas Pinchas - Vol. 2, Issue 35

Pinchas ben Elozar ben Aharon HaKohen (25:11)

At the end of last week’s parsha, the Jewish people began to sin with the non-Jewish Midianites. Even Zimri, the leader of the tribe of Shimon, was caught up in the sin. Anxious to stem the spread of the sin, Aharon’s grandson Pinchas publicly killed Zimri.

Rashi writes that after Pinchas killed the prestigious Zimri, the Jewish people began to shame him. They questioned how somebody whose maternal grandfather (Yisro) had been an idolater could murder the leader of a tribe. Therefore, the Torah emphasizes his paternal descent from Aharon.

The logic behind their argument and Hashem’s response is difficult to grasp. If the Jews knew the law that permitted Pinchas’s actions, 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 point out Pinchas’s paternal lineage? 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?

Rav Meir Shapiro explains 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 greater test of his devotion to Hashem. The Jews attempted to minimize the greatness of Pinchas’s act not by insinuating that he was a cold-blooded killer. Rather, they hinted that it had come easy to him because his grandfather cruelly killed animals as part of his idol-worship.

The Torah therefore emphasizes that this act was performed with great personal difficulty and internal resistance. Pinchas’s natural instincts came not from his allegedly merciless maternal grandfather, but from his paternal grandfather Aharon, a man whose entire life was dedicated to the pursuit of peace. The Lekach Tov 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 lesson illustrated by the following story.

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 every person has different mitzvos which specifically challenge him, the Mishnah in Avos teach 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 his reward (5:22), a lesson we should learn from the eternal covenant of peace that Hashem gave to Pinchas for acting counter to his nature.


Vayomer Hashem el Moshe kach lecha es Yehoshua bin Nun is hasher ruach bo v’samachta es yad’cha alav (27:18)

            As the end of Moshe’s life began to approach, Hashem commanded him to appoint his disciple Yehoshua to succeed him. Why wasn’t Pinchas, the righteous “hero” of the parsha, selected to take over the leadership after Moshe’s death? In risking his life for the sake of the nation, didn’t he display the extent of his dedication and commitment to them, a valuable trait for a successful leader to possess?

            The following fascinating Talmudic episode will help us answer these questions. The Gemora (Shabbos 33b) records that because of comments he had made, the non-Jewish government decreed that the great Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai should be executed. He fled with his son, Rebbi Elazar, to hide in a cave. For twelve years, Hashem miraculously provided their food and drink, and they spent the entire day engrossed in the study of Torah.

After twelve years, Hashem sent Eliyahu HaNavi to announce at the opening of the cave that the person who made the decree had died, and Rebbi Shimon’s life was safe. Rebbi Shimon and his son emerged to see the light of day for the first time in more than a decade. However, while they had spent this time climbing to great spiritual heights, the rest of the world had continued in its mundane fashion.

When Rebbi Shimon and Rebbi Elazar saw men “wasting” their time on what they viewed as frivolous non-spiritual matters like plowing and planting, the Rabbis looked at them with such anger and disdain that the farmers were immediately burned by a mystical fire. A Divine voice called out, “Have you left the cave to destroy My world?” They returned to study Torah in the cave for another year.

            At the end of the year, they left the cave. The results were similar, but with one crucial difference. When Rebbi Elazar saw people engaging in earthly matters, he again burned them with his wrath, but this time, Rebbi Shimon looked at them and healed them, explaining to his son, “It’s enough for the world that you and I exist.” One Friday afternoon, they saw a man carrying two bundles of sweet-smelling myrtle in honor of Shabbos. Noting the devotion of Jews to mitzvos, they were pacified.

            If the initial twelve years in the cave had placed such a divide between Rebbi Shimon and the rest of the world, how did an additional year in the cave solve the problem when it should have only exacerbated it? The commentators answer that the additional year brought Rebbi Shimon to true greatness: the ability to understand and relate to those who aren’t on one’s level, and to appreciate them for their good qualities such as their dedication to honoring Shabbos.

In light of this explanation, we can appreciate the answer given by the Kotzker Rebbe to our original questions. The very fervor and passion demonstrated by Pinchas, while appropriate and incredibly useful in that particular episode, rendered him ineligible to serve as the national leader. Rashi writes (27:16) that Moshe requested a successor who would be able to understand that every person has his own individual foibles and needs, and who would be able to patiently bear the burden of interacting with each person and his idiosyncrasies. Pinchas’s passionate devotion to truth and righteousness served him well, but would have made him an ineffective leader who was unable to understand and interact with each person on his unique level.


V’nasata meihod’cha alav l’ma’an yishm’u kol adas B’nei Yisroel (27:20)

Rashi explains that while the face of Moshe was comparable to the sun, the face of Yehoshua was similar to the moon. How is it to be understood that their faces were comparable to celestial bodies, and why was each of them specifically likened to the sun and moon, respectively?

The Shelah HaKadosh writes that if one wishes to know the true inner meaning of any word, one need only examine the meaning of that word the first time it appears in the Torah. Searching for the word gadol, we needn’t go too far, as it first appears in Bereishis 1:16, when the Torah relates that Hashem made the large light – the sun – to rule by day and the smaller one – the moon – to dominate by night. On a simple level, it would appear that the first use of this word merely refers to the mundane fact that the sun is physically larger than the moon, hardly inspiring in our search to understand the Torah’s definition of greatness.

However, the Bostoner Rebbe notes that in searching for some deeper significance, we must consider the scientific relationship between the sun and the moon. To the naked, uneducated eye, it would seem that the sun provides our light during the day and the moon by night. However, we all learned in science that this isn’t exactly accurate, as the moon is incapable of independently generating its own light. More correctly, the sun gives us light during the day and at night the moon reflects the sun’s light. In this sense, the sun is the giver and the moon is the receiver. Applying this to us, the Torah is indeed teaching us a profound lesson that our quest for true greatness isn’t measured by how much Torah we learn or how hard we pray, but by how much we emulate the “great” sun by sharing our warmth with others!

Rav Dovid Povarsky and the Mishmeres Ariel note that the Gemora in Shabbos (87a) relates that there were three episodes in which Moshe acted of his own accord, and each time Hashem agreed with his decision and logic, something that we don’t find in reference to Yehoshua. Just as the sun generates its own heat, so too Moshe was capable of producing and developing original insights, while Yehoshua – like the moon which has no source of lights of its own – was only able to lead the nation based on that which he directly received from Moshe.


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

1)     The Targum Yonason ben Uziel (25:12) writes that as reward for Pinchas’s reward zealotry, Hashem promised that he would live forever and would herald the final redemption. Our Sages explain that Eliyahu HaNavi was none other than Pinchas. As Eliyahu ascended to Heaven without dying, was his wife permitted to remarry? (Terumas HaDeshen, Kovetz Shiurim)

2)     Of all of Yaakov’s children, 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. However, Yaakov cursed the anger and violence which they displayed in doing so (Bereishis 49:5-7). A few generations later, Pinchas – a descendant of Levi – was jealous for Hashem’s honor and killed Zimri, the leader of a tribe, for engaging in forbidden relations with a non-Jewish woman. For his zealotry, Pinchas was rewarded with a covenant of eternal priesthood (25:11-13). What was the difference between the actions of Levi and Pinchas? (HaEmek Davar, Malbim, Aleinu L’shabeiach)

3)     The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 128:35) rules that a Kohen who kills another person, even accidentally, may no longer recite the Priestly Blessing, and he certainly becomes unfit to serve in the Beis HaMikdash. How is it possible that Pinchas, who wasn’t yet a Kohen (Rashi 25:13), merited becoming a Kohen by virtue of intentionally killing Zimri, an act which renders invalid even somebody who is already a Kohen? (Chiddushei HaRim, Ohr Gedalyahu, Tosefos Yom Tov Bechoros 7:7, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

4)     The Torah instructs (26:55) that the land of Israel be divided among the tribes through a process of drawing lots. There was once a lottery in which one devious person entered his name twice. Although he didn’t win, does this procedural breach invalidate the results of the lottery and require that it be done again? (Shu”t Chavos Yair 61, Shu”t V’Shav HaKohen 73, Ben Ish Chai quoted in K’Motzei Shalal Rav, Nesivos Rabboseinu, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

5)     After Hashem decreed that Moshe couldn’t enter the land of Israel, how was it a consolation to Moshe that Hashem commanded him (27:12-14) to ascend a mountain from which he could see the land? Wasn’t reminding Moshe of what he couldn’t have like rubbing salt in his wound?

6)     Rashi writes (27:23) that although Hashem commanded Moshe to lean only one hand upon Yehoshua, Moshe generously did so with both of his hands in order to fill up Yehoshua with his wisdom. How was Moshe permitted to deviate from that which Hashem explicitly commanded him, and why did he do so? (Derech Sicha)

7)     Rashi writes (29:18) that the 98 sheep which were offered as sacrifices on Sukkos (14 daily for each of the seven days) served to counteract the 98 curses which are mentioned in Parshas Ki Savo from coming to fruition. Why was this done specifically on Sukkos as opposed to one of the other festivals? (Avnei Nezer)

© 2007 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to


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