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Torah Attitude: Parashas Pinchas: Everyone has two portions

Summary

The five daughters of Zelophechad requested that they receive a portion of the land of Israel. Any righteous person who rises in a generation of transgressors merits the reward of all of them. Moses was most impressed with the five daughters. The common denominator of Noah, Abraham, Lot and the five daughters is that these righteous people survived when everyone else got punished and perished. Abraham performed so many good deeds that it counteracted the evils of all ten generations. Every individual has two shares: one in Gan Eden and one in Gehinom. Every person has an influence on the society surrounding him. Everyone is rewarded and punished according to their conduct and everyone gets what they deserve. The righteous deserve more reward for his good deeds due to the hardships caused by society that he lives in. Special honour was afforded to the animals that entered the Ark. Any person who elevates himself to follow the commandments of the Torah in today's society will be rewarded much more than someone living in earlier generations. A person should realize his own worth as a servant of G'd. A person should lower himself in modesty and subservience to G'd. The two main temptations of life are lust and cravings, on one hand, and haughtiness and anger on the other.

Zelophechad's daughters

In this week's Torah portion, it is related how the five daughters of Zelophechad approached Moses and Elazar, the son of Aaron. They requested that they receive a portion of the land of Israel, as their father had passed away leaving no male heirs. As G'd had not yet taught him the details of the laws of inheritance, Moses brought their request before G'd. In response, G'd instructed Moses the laws of inheritance in detail. As an introduction to these laws G'd said, (Bamidbar 27:7) "The daughters of Zelophechad speak correctly. You shall for sure give them a possession of inheritance among the brothers of their father. And you shall pass on the inheritance of their father to them."

The reward of all of them

The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni ibid) comments that any righteous person who rises in a generation of transgressors merits the reward of all of them. Says the Yalkut: "Noah rose in the generation of the flood and merited their reward. Abraham rose in the generation that was disbursed when they built the Towel of Babel and merited their reward. Lot, who lived amongst the people of Sodom, merited their reward. And these five sisters rose in the generation who wandered in the wilderness and merited the reward of all of them."

Moses impressed

The Midrash continues to explain that the daughters of Zelophechad approached Moses, just after the return of the spies, at the same time when the general Jewish population complained and wanted to return to Egypt (see Bamidbar 14:1-4). Moses was most impressed with them and said, "Aren't you aware that everyone wants to return to Egypt and you are asking for a portion of the land [of Israel]?" They answered him, "We know that eventually the Jewish people will take possession of the land. And exactly now, when others are transgressing the Torah, is the right time to stand up for the honour of G'd."

World to Come

The common denominator of Noah, Abraham, Lot and the five daughters of Zelophechad is that these righteous people survived when everyone else got punished and perished. It is obvious that the reward the Midrash is referring to is the reward of the World to Come, as we do not find that any of the people mentioned received the possessions of their contemporaries who perished. However, the Yalkut seems to contradict the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (5:2-3). The Mishnah says: "There were ten generations from Adam to Noah all the generations angered [G'd] increasingly until He brought upon them the waters of the flood. There were ten generations from Noah to Abraham all those generations angered [G'd] increasingly till our forefather Abraham came and received the reward for all of them."

Noah vs. Abraham

The Yalkut clearly states that Noah received the reward of his generation, just like Abraham received the reward of those dispersed from the Tower of Babel. But the Mishnah only mentions that Abraham received the reward and makes no mention of Noah being rewarded. However, if we further analyze the two texts we will notice an additional difference between them. The Yalkut is only referring to the generation of the Flood and the generation of the Dispersion who were both punished. The Mishnah, on the other hand, is referring to all ten generations from Adam to Noah and all ten generations from Noah to Abraham. Noah rose above the generation of the Flood similar to Abraham who rose above the generation of Dispersion. But here the similarity ends. As Rabbeinu Ovadiah of Bartenura explains in his commentary on this Mishnah, Abraham performed so many good deeds that it counteracted the evils of all ten generations. He was therefore able to save all of them in his merit. Noah, however, was not on the level to save his contemporaries in his merit. He only managed to save himself and his family. This is why the Mishnah singles out Abraham as the one rewarded in the World to Come with the reward of his generations. The Yalkut, however, specifically discusses the generation of the Flood in the time of Noah and the generation of the Dispersion in the time of Abraham. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 107b) teaches that these two generations both have no share in the World to Come. In this regard, Noah and Abraham were equal and each received the rewards of that particular generation.

Other people's rewards

But how do we understand that one individual can receive the reward of others? If the other people did something good, should they not receive the reward themselves? And if they did not do anything good, what reward is there to be received on their behalf? A similar question arises from the teachings of the Talmud (Chagigah 15b) where it says that every individual has two shares: one in Gan Eden and one in Gehinom. The one who merits will receive his portion and the portion of his friend in Gan Eden. And the one who is guilty will receive his portion and the portion of his friend in Gehinom.

Influence on society

The Beis Halevi in his commentary on Parashas Noah explains that every person has an influence on the society surrounding him. The person who does wrong causes that even righteous people in his community may sin due to his bad influence. It is like the sin contaminates the atmosphere and brings everyone around it down with it. On the other hand, the righteous that perform good deeds elevate their society together with them, and purify the atmosphere. This helps people who otherwise would live a simple life, or even a sinful life, to do good as well. G'd does not shortchange anyone. The righteous person will be punished for his odd transgressions but G'd will see to that this person will be punished in this world rather than in the World to Come. Similarly, the sinful person will be rewarded for his relatively few good deeds in this world rather than in the World to Come.

Two portions

Says the Beis Halevi, both the righteous and the sinful entered into this world with two portions for the World to Come, one in Gan Eden and one in Gehinom. The righteous person's portion in Gehinom will be given to the sinner who caused the righteous to sin. And the sinner's portion in Gan Eden will be given to the righteous who was instrumental in the other's good deeds. In this way, everyone is rewarded and punished according to their conduct and everyone gets what they deserve.

Reward of the righteous

The Beis Halevi explains that there is an additional aspect to this. It is relatively easy for a righteous person to do right when he lives in a society of similar minded people. But when he lives in a sinful society he has to fight the influence of the people around him to do what is right. This in itself makes the righteous deserve more reward for his good deeds due to the hardships caused by society that he lives in. Rabbi Dessler adds that every generation has its own purpose in G'd's creation. In a generation of sinners, the few righteous people who rise above the rest have to bring that generation to its purpose on their own, against the tremendous odds of their surroundings. This entitles them to the reward of the whole generation.

Animal husband and wife

Rabbi Yaacov Galinsky of Bnei Brak once discussed the special honour afforded to the animals that entered the Ark. Prior to the flood, Noah was instructed by G'd to gather all of the species that existed: seven of each of the pure animals and two of each of the impure animals. As it says (Bereishis 7:2): "Of the pure animals you shall take seven, husband and wife and of the animals that are not pure, two, husband and wife." Asks the Talmud (Sanhedrin 108b), since when do we refer to animals as husband and wife? The Talmud answers that they received this honourable mention in recognition of that those animals had not be involved in any sin. Rabbeinu Nathan from Rome explains in his famous work The Aruch that the animals who were allowed into the Ark had not cohabited with other species. These animals were somehow not affected by the low moral standards that mankind brought upon the whole environment at the time of the Flood. The animals that perished during the Flood were corrupted as they were influenced by the low moral standards of the human beings (see Torah Attitude: Parashas Noah: Two generations, one story, October 25, 2006).

More reward than animals

Says Rabbi Yaacov Galinsky, if animals, who have no free will, were honoured because they somehow were not affected by the low standards prevailing at the time of the flood, how much more will any individual who in today's society lives a moral and decent life be honoured and rewarded. Any person who elevates himself to follow the commandments of the Torah will be rewarded much more than someone living in earlier generations, as it takes a lot more effort to elevate oneself above the influences of the generation we live in.

Servant of G'd

Rabbeinu Yonah writes in the beginning of Shaar Haovadah (Gate of Worship) that a person should realize his own worth as a servant of G'd. He should remember his great ancestors and be aware how great they, as well as he, are in the eyes of G'd. In this way, when he is being tested by the influences of the society surrounding him, he will be able to remind himself that it is totally beyond him to lower himself to commit such abominable and unacceptable acts that will only anger G'd.

Modesty and subservience

This seems to contradict what Rabbeinu Yonah himself says in Shaarei Teshuvah [Gates of Repentance] (1:23) where he writes that a person should lower himself in modesty and subservience to G'd. However, the truth is that there is no contradiction between the two statements. These are two tools that every individual needs to have to keep him on the straight path of the Torah. On the one hand, one should remember one's self-worth when one is tempted to do something of a low moral or ethical conduct. In such a situation a person should say to himself: "how can I lower myself to do this when I have such great ancestors who were always careful to keep themselves above this kind of conduct? How can I bring them and myself down in this way?" On the other hand, when a person is tempted to be proud and act in a haughty fashion then he should use the tool of modesty. He should say to himself: "who do I think I am? I have plenty of shortcomings and in many areas could do a lot better." With these approaches one can save oneself from any wrongdoing.

Lust and anger

The Vilna Gaon explains that these are the two main temptations of life: lust and cravings on one hand, and haughtiness and anger on the other. If we apply the right tools in every situation, we will be able to overcome any temptations in life. The Vilna Gaon further explains that the two Temples were destroyed because of our shortcomings in these two areas. As we enter the three weeks of mourning of the destruction of the Temples, it is our holy obligation to try and rectify these evils by trying to overcome our personal temptations in life. In this way, we will have our share in turning these three weeks of mourning into a time of celebration with the coming of Mashiach. Amen.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.


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