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Torah Attitude: Parashas Pinchas: Everyone has two portions
Zelophechad's five daughters requested that they receive a portion in the land of Israel. A person who stands up in a generation of transgressors to do what is right 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 ten generations. Every person has two shares: one in Gan Eden and one in Gehinom. We all influence the society surrounding us. We are rewarded and punished according to our conduct and get what we deserve. The righteous deserve more reward for their good deeds due to the hardships caused by the immoral society they live in. The animals that entered the Ark were afforded special honour. When we elevate ourselves to follow the commandments of the Torah in today's society, we will be rewarded much more than if we lived in earlier generations. We must realize our own worth as servants of G'd. We should be humble and subservient to G'd. We are challenged with two temptations, lust and cravings on one hand, and haughtiness and anger on the other.
In this week's parasha, the Torah relates how Zelophechad's five daughters approached Moses and Elazar, the son of Aaron. They requested a portion in the land of Israel, as their father had passed away leaving no male heirs. G'd had not yet taught Moses the details of the laws of inheritance. Therefore, he could not rule on this matter and 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) "Zelophechad's daughters are right. You shall for sure give them a possession of inheritance among the brothers of their father. And you shall pass their father's inheritance to them."
The reward of all of them
The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni ibid) comments on this that a person who stands up in a generation of transgressors to do what is right merits the reward of all of them. Says the Yalkut: "Noah stood up in the generation of the flood and merited their reward. Abraham stood up in the generation that was disbursed when they built the Towel of Babel and merited their reward. Lot lived amongst the people of Sodom and merited their reward. And these five sisters grew up in the generation who wandered in the wilderness and merited the reward of all of them."
The Midrash continues that Zelophechad's daughters approached Moses, just after the return of the spies, at the 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
We find a common denominator between Noah, Abraham, Lot and Zelophechad's five daughters. They all survived when the people around them got punished and perished. It is obvious that the Midrash refers to the reward of the World to Come, for we do not find that any of the people mentioned received the possessions of their contemporaries who perished. However, the Yalkut seems to contradict what it says in Pirkei Avos (5:2-3): "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. However, the Mishnah only says that Abraham received the reward and does not mention anything about Noah being rewarded. If we further analyze the two texts, we will find an additional difference between them. The Yalkut only refers to the generation of the Flood and the generation of the Dispersion who were both punished. The Mishnah, on the other hand, refers 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 Pirkei Avos, 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
How can we understand that one individual receives 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 words of the Talmud (Chagigah 15b). The Talmud states that every person has two shares: one in Gan Eden and one in Gehinom. The one who is meritorious will receive his own portion as well as the portion of his friend in Gan Eden. Whereas one who is guilty will receive both his and his friend's portion in Gehinom.
Influence on society
The Beis Halevi in his commentary on Parashas Noah explains that we all influence the society around us. If we do something wrong, we cause that even righteous people in our community sin due to our bad influence. The sin contaminates the atmosphere and brings everyone down. On the other hand, when we perform good deeds, we elevate our society 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 will be punished for their transgressions, but G'd will see to that they will be punished in this world rather than in the World to Come. Similarly, the sinful person will be rewarded for his good deeds in this world rather than in the World to Come.
Says the Beis Halevi, everyone enters 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 sinner'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. Rabbi Dessler adds that every generation has its own purpose in G'd's creation. In a generation where the majority are sinners, the few righteous people have to bring that generation to its purpose on their own. This entitles them to the reward of the whole generation.
Animal husband and wife
Rabbi Yaacov Galinsky of Bnei Brak once discussed the honourable mention the Torah affords to the animals that entered Noah's Ark. Prior to the flood, G'd instructed Noah to gather all the species: seven of the pure animals and two of the impure animals. The Torah (Bereishis 7:2) writes: "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 since they had not been 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 corrupt moral standards that mankind brought upon the whole environment at the time of the Flood. The animals that perished during the Flood were all 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. When we elevate ourselves to follow the commandments of the Torah, we will be rewarded much more than 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 Ha'avodah (Gate of Worship) that an observant person must 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 challenged by the influences of the society around him, he will be able to remind himself that it is totally below him to commit such abominable and unacceptable acts, that will anger G'd.
Modesty and subservience
This seems to contradict what Rabbeinu Yonah himself writes in Shaarei Teshuvah [Gates of Repentance] (1:23). There he writes that we shall be humble and subservient to G'd. The truth is that there is no contradiction between the two statements. These are two tools that we need to keep us on the straight path of the Torah. On the one hand, we must remember our self-worth when we are tempted to do something of a low moral or ethical conduct. In such a situation, we should say to ourselves: "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 we are tempted to be proud and act in a haughty fashion then we should use the tool of humbleness and say: "who do I think I am? I have plenty of shortcomings and in many areas I could do a lot better." With these two approaches we can save ourselves 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 have entered the three weeks of mourning of the destruction of the Temples, it is our holy obligation to rectify these evils by trying to overcome our personal challenges in life. In this way, we participate in turning these three weeks of mourning into a time of celebration with the coming of Mashiach. Amen.
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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