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PINCHASMAN WALKS ABOUT FEELING HE DESERVES EVERYTHING
Adapted from Ha'aros, vol. IV, p. 156 by Moreinu v'Rabbeinu Rav Zeidel Epstein, zt"l.
Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon Hakohen, has turned My anger away from the people of Israel, while he was zealous for My sake among them, that I consumed not the people of Israel in My jealousy. Therefore say, Behold, I give to him My covenant of peace. (Bemidbar 25:11-12)
HaKadosh Baruch Hu said, It is only just that he receives his reward, therefore tell him, Behold, I give to him My covenant of peace. (Midrash Rabba (21:1)
This is a very strange statement by the Midrash. If it is just that he receive his reward, does that imply that there is reward one does not deserve justly? And isn't all reward deserved?
Dovid Hamelech said, "And to You, O Lord, belongs chesed; for You pay every man according to his action" Tehillim (62:3). The commentaries struggle to understand this statement. Reward isn't chesed. If one deserves reward for his actions, then it is rightfully his. How can reward be chesed? Many attempts have been made to understand this possuk.
"Who has a claim on Me from before that I should repay him?'" (Iyov 41:3). Who has glorified Me before I gave him a soul? Who spoke praises in My name before I gave him a male child? Who made for Me a ma'akah (a fence around a roof) before I gave him a roof? Who made for Me a mezuzah before I gave him a house? Who made for Me a succah before I gave him a place to make it? Who made for Me a lulav before I gave him the money? Who made for Me tzitzis before I gave him a tallis? Who separated before Me pe'ah (leaving the corners of the field for the poor) before I gave him a field? Who separated for Me terumah before I gave him a granary? Who separated before Me challah before I gave him the dough; who separated before Me a sacrifice before I gave him an animal? (Vayikra Rabba 27:2)
Man walks about in this world feeling he deserves everything. Everything has to go properly according to (his) plan. If, Heaven forbid, something goes wrong, either an illness or some other trouble, he starts complaining. He doesn't understand why this had to happen.
If only we would look around, we would realize how correct Chazal were when they said, "Even the beneficiary of miracles fails to recognize his miracle" (Niddah 31a). We should be full of gratitude to Hashem for all the miracles He has performed for us. When a person wakes up in the morning, how should his modeh ani look? Chazal have told us that sleep is 1/60th of death (Brachos 57b). At night, the soul goes up to Heaven to give an accounting before the Beis Din Shel Ma'alah (Heavenly Court). The Shelah in his siddur explains the bracha we recite every morning, "My God, the neshama that You gave me is pure." Every morning man receives a pure soul, clean and immaculate. Hashem did not have to do this. The fact often is that the previous night he returned his soul to Heaven filthy, full of his sins. Eventually, everything will be accounted for; nothing is hidden from the Heavenly court. And yet, in spite of this, each morning the person receives a sparkling clean neshama with new opportunities to sanctify himself and be good, accepting upon himself the yoke of Torah and mitzvos. Is that not a miracle of chesed?
The chesed of Hashem Yisborach surrounds the person every minute of the day. Just contemplate a bit on the functioning of one's body. Take the heart for example. Make a simple calculation. The heart beats approximately 3600 times an hour. Extend the calculation to days and weeks and you will come up with an astronomical figure, if you can count that high. The machine called the body lives tens of years. If so, to what extent should a person sing praises on the miracles and wonders of each second?
One's labor in Torah and mitzvos is but a minuscule of a minuscule portion of what he owes HaKadosh Baruch Hu for all the chesed he receives. Therefore, any reward he receives from Heaven for his actions is really chesed. He has already received his reward in the very fact that he continues living in order to perform more Torah and mitzvos. This is what Dovid Hamelech meant: Yes, a person receives reward; but really it is all chesed.
Now we can understand Chazal's statement, "It is only just that Pinchas receives his reward." Normally, a person does not deserve any reward. He received it already by the very fact that he is alive. Pinchas, however, risked the ultimate sacrifice and put his life in danger. First of all, he was not commanded by Moshe to go and take revenge. Moshe advised him that one who understands what has to be done should do it. When he entered the camp of the tribe of Shimon, they wanted to kill him. Even the halacha was weighted against him. True, he was doing the right thing halachically; one who lives with a gentile woman is deserving of death and Pinchas was justified in taking righteous revenge. However, being that he was trying to kill Zimri, if Zimri would have defended himself and killed Pinchas in self-defense, he also would have had the law on his side. For all this self-sacrifice, he deserved more than the regular reward that everyone else receives. Pinchas deserved his reward justly, and not as a chesed - "It is only just that he receives his reward." For such self-sacrifice, the reward is rightly deserved.
© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Yeshiva Shaare Chaim.
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers) and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop - Lakewood).
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