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Parshas Pinchas - Vol. 11, Issue 42
Compiled by Oizer Alport
At the end of Parshas Balak, the Jewish people were enticed to sin with Midianite women, which resulted in a plague that killed 24,000 Jews. Anxious to stem the spread of the plague, Aharon's grandson Pinchas killed Zimri, the leader of the tribe of Shimon who was publicly taking part in the sin. This week's parsha begins with Hashem extolling Pinchas for his actions and promising him a covenant of peace and eternal priesthood as his reward.
The Gemora in Sanhedrin (82a) records that when Pinchas saw Zimri sinning, he approached Moshe and asked him, "When you came down from Har Sinai, didn't you teach us that if somebody is publicly sinning with a non-Jewish woman, it is permissible to kill him?" In his sefer Pachad Yitzchok on Sukkos (129:5), Rav Yitzchok Hutner quotes the Vilna Gaon, who questions why this extremely rare and unusual law was one of the first mitzvos that Moshe elected to teach the people upon his descent from the mountain. The Vilna Gaon explains that there are times when a Jewish leader is required to perform an action which is classified as halacha v'ein morin kein - in accordance with Jewish law, yet so atypical and unorthodox that a Jewish court would in fact not instruct an ordinary person to do so even if he asks them, as these are extraordinary measures whose use and application is restricted to the judgment and discretion of Jewish leaders in exceptional circumstances.
When Moshe initially came down from the mountain, he did not explicitly mention the law invoked by Pinchas in this episode. Rather, his first action was to shatter the Luchos (Tablets) in response to the golden calf that the people had made. The Gemora (Shabbos 87a) teaches that Moshe broke the Luchos on his own without being commanded by Hashem to do so, as he reasoned that if a mumar (apostate) is forbidden to eat from the Korban Pesach (Passover-offering), which is only one mitzvah, all the more so is he excluded from the Luchos that represent the entire Torah, which contains 613 mitzvos. The Vilna Gaon explains that Pinchas learned from Moshe's actions when he came down from the mountain that there are times when a leader is expected to have the courage to act as a situation requires, even if it doesn't appear to adhere to the usual set of rules, and it was this lesson to which he was referring when he raised the idea of killing Zimri to Moshe.
Rav Yisroel Reisman adds that Pinchas's reward for his actions was a covenant of eternal priesthood. Similarly, shortly before Aharon became a Kohen, the Jewish people approached him and asked him to make gods for them (Shemos 32:1). Rashi writes (32:5) that Aharon agreed to do so, reasoning that it was preferable that the resulting Divine anger be directed against him and not against the nation. In other words, in his role as national leader, Aharon determined that the extraordinary circumstances in which he found himself warranted breaking the traditional rules.
If not for the sin of the golden calf, the bechorim (firstborns) would have served as priests in the Temple, but as a result of Aharon's incredible willingness to risk his own spiritual well-being for the good of the nation, he became the progenitor of all future Kohanim. Aharon's temporary suspension of the rules was similar to the breaking of the Luchos by his brother Moshe, whose example Pinchas followed by killing Zimri. This is not a lesson that we may emulate, yet it is nevertheless an important and fundamental insight regarding the unique qualities that make Jewish leaders great.
After Hashem showed Moshe the land of Israel but told him that he would not be permitted to enter due the episode at Mei Merivah, Moshe requested that Hashem appoint a successor to him who would lead the people, so that they would not be left bereft like a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Hashem responded by informing Moshe that his disciple Yehoshua had earned the position through his devoted service.
The S'fas Emes notes that the Jewish people certainly have a reliable shepherd to lead them - Hashem - as Dovid famously writes (Tehillim 23:1) Mizmor l'Dovid Hashem ro'i - A Psalm of Dovid, Hashem is my shepherd. If so, what was Moshe's intention in asking Hashem to select a replacement for him to serve as their shepherd? The S'fas Emes explains that even though in reality Hashem is always guiding us and serving as our shepherd, human nature is such that there are difficult times when we feel distant from Him and abandoned. The Torah alludes to this phenomenon when it records (Bereishis 22:4) Va'yar es ha'makom me'rachok - Avrohom saw ha'makom, which literally means the place for the Akeidah, but can also be a reference to Hashem, from afar. Therefore, we have leaders to help us understand that we are never forlorn, and to give us the recognition that Hashem is constantly watching over us.
His grandson Rav Pinchas Menachem Alter, known as the P'nei Menachem, adds that when Dovid writes Hashem ro'i lo echsar - Hashem is my shepherd, I will not lack - he was praying that he should never lack the emotional connection and feeling that Hashem is his shepherd, continuously protecting him and leading him through life, which is something that Moshe sought in his successor.
On this topic, Rav Yisroel Reisman tells the story of a well-known Jew in Williamsburg who was diagnosed with a terrible illness and given a poor prognosis. Before he began treatment, he first went to every Chassidic Rebbe in Williamsburg for a beracha (blessing), and miraculously, after only two weeks, his disease disappeared and his doctor pronounced him completely cured. As news of his miraculous recovery spread, each group of Chassidim took credit by asserting that it was the beracha given by their respective Rebbe that healed him.
The man who was cured went to the Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, to personally inform him of his improvement and to thank him for his blessing and prayers. He mentioned that every Chassidic group was claiming credit for curing him, to which the Satmar Rebbe replied that ultimately, the Rebbe who has the most Chassidim will get credit due to the fact that he has the most followers ascribing the miracle to the power of his beracha. However, the Satmar Rebbe cynically added that the true cause of his miraculous recovery was Hashem, but sadly, He won't receive credit due to the fact that He has very few chassidim who follow in Moshe and Dovid's footsteps in recognizing Him as their true shepherd in life.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Which book of Tanach was co-authored by Pinchas? (Bava Basra 15a)
2) Rashi writes (25:18) that Hashem commanded the Jewish people to kill the Midianites because they caused the Jews to sin by making their daughters available for forbidden relations. Does this mean that non-Jews are commanded in the mitzvah of lifnei iver - not causing another person to sin? (Ginas Veradim 43, Ayeles HaShachar)
3) Rashi writes (27:1) that the Torah specifically emphasizes that the ancestry of the daughters of Tzelafchad extended back to Yosef to teach that their love of the land of Israel, in which they demanded to inherit their father's portion, had its origins in Yosef's love of Israel, to which he insisted on having his bones brought for burial. What love was displayed by their insistence to actually own a portion of the land when they would merit entering the land regardless, as opposed to Yosef, who had to request to be brought into Israel? (Darash Moshe)
4) Why does Hashem refer (28:2) to the Korban Tamid (Continual Offering) as korbanee - My offering - while all other sacrifices are referred to as korban'chem - your offerings? (Siddur Otzar HaTefillos, Ayeles HaShachar)
5) Rashi explains (29:36) that the festival of Shemini Atzeres is Hashem's way of saying that after we have spent so much time together with Him in the sukkah, it is difficult for Him to separate from us and He therefore asks us to linger one more day. How will this solve the problem of the painful separation, which will presumably only become more difficult after spending additional time together? (Darkei Mussar pg. 287, Tiferes Torah)
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