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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

PARASHAS PINCHAS

Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon HaKohen turned back My wrath from upon Bnei Yisrael, when he zealously avenged My vengeance among them. (25:11)

Kinaah and kanaus, jealousy and zealousness, are two terms which share the same root word. Indeed, Rashi interprets kanaus, zealousness, as a jealous reaction, which results in vengeance. One becomes outraged when something which he feels is rightfully his has been taken from him. A jealous person feels slighted by someone who has that which he feels is rightfully his. A true zealot feels that when someone impugns Hashem, His Torah and mitzvos, he is infringing upon his religion. Such a person has a sense of kinship with Hashem and is grievously hurt by an action which undermines Hashem. The zealot does not act for attention. He is real. He views a slight against Hashem as a personal affront. A zealot represents the highest moral and spiritual integrity; otherwise, his outrage is nothing more than an act of divisiveness, troublemaking, attention seeking, headline grabbing, by an individual who has no qualms about destroying others in pursuit of his own vested agenda. True kanaus builds; false fanaticism destroys.

The Chazon Ish was known for his deep, abiding love of Hashem and His People. He was uncompromising in his devotion to Hashem and His Torah. Halachah was his moral compass. An act is either right or wrong. He was acutely aware that even good intentions and good deeds, when not carried out in the appropriate place and time, can be counterproductive and even destructive. On more than one occasion he demonstrated how, what appeared to be commendable exactness in halachah, was actually the opposite. The Chazon Ish expended much energy ensuring that Shemittah be fully observed. To this end, he instituted a system in Bnei Brak whereby Otzar Beis Din receives the produce of the fields from the owners and recompenses the owner only for the expense of delivering the produce to Otzar Beis Din. The produce itself is not paid for.

Despite the decision of the Chazon Ish, a group of rabbanim, who under normal circumstances did not have a reputation for strict adherence to halachah, raised objection to Otzar Beis Din. The Chazon Ish strongly suspected the true motives of these rabbis and applied to them a phrase from the Viduy of Rabbeinu Nissim Gaon (recited during the Yom Kippur Katan service). "With respect to that which You were strict, I was lenient; and with respect to that which You were lenient, I was strict". Rather than conform to the strictness of halachah, these chameleons manipulated halachah to suit their self-serving purposes.

The Chazon Ish asked, "What is objectionable to being machmir, taking extra stringencies, above the letter of the law?" He replied that Rabbeinu Nissim Gaon was addressing a situation much like the present one, "Those who objected to the leniency of Otzar Beis Din for those who were meticulous concerning Shemittah observance" were the very same rabbanim who wished to permit all the prohibitions of Shemittah by relying on a heter mechirah" (a fictional sale of the fields of Eretz Yisrael to a gentile). "By opposing the use of the Otzar Beis Din, they hope to demonstrate that, in modern times, Shemittah cannot be observed unless one relies on a heter mechirah. Such rabbis definitely require atonement for their actions", said the Chazon Ish, "for prohibiting that which is permitted".

The Chazon Ish had an intimate relationship with halachah. Thus, if someone undermined halachah, he took umbrage. This person was impugning the very core principles of Yiddishkeit. One does not tinker with halachah.

In another instance, a group of representatives of Neturei Karta (a staunch anti-Zionist group) came to the Chazon Ish, demanding that he censure one of the distinguished Torah leaders of Bnei Brak for being insufficiently anti-Zionist. The Chazon Ish became extremely upset with these men, replying to them very sharply, "You come to Bnei Brak from Yerushalayim, and you presume to tell us how to behave!"

Sadly, one of the younger members of that group spoke to the Chazon Ish with disrespect. He did not live out the year. The Chazon Ish was a great man whose very essence was intertwined with Hashem. To insult an individual of his stature was to insult the Almighty.

He had strong feelings concerning groups whose very foundation was to foment trouble. While the majority was comprised of holy Jews, devoted to seeing the Holy City in its glory, unfettered by their secular coreligionists who were bent on destroying Yerushalayim's kedushah and literally placing a tzelem in the Heichal, an idol in the Sanctuary, many of their followers were interested in nothing but tumult, discord, rabble-rousing and fights that accompanied the protests.

Referring to them, the Chazon Ish once said, "They are Jews from before Mattan Torah, the Giving of the Torah". He meant that their zeal was not guided by Torah principles. On yet another occasion, he compared them to an alarm clock: "It is true that an alarm clock rouses people from their sleep, but in life one must decide whether it is really time to get up, or whether he can sleep in a bit longer". In other words, there is a time and place for everything. Unless one has daas Torah, the wisdom that is derived from total immersion in the Torah, one is unable to discern if the time is right.

Pinchas carried out the halachic dictum, Boel aramis kanaim pogin bo, "A zealous individual may slay one who cohabits with a gentile". To undertake such a drastic response to a blatant desecration of the Torah takes a very special person, one whose love for Hashem is overflowing and who views this dastardly act as usurping the very foundations of Judaism. There is another way. The saintly Apter Rav, zl, was famous for his ahavas Yisrael. His love for all Jews, regardless of their religious affiliation, was legendary. Indeed, the name of his commentary on Chumash is Oheiv Yisrael.

Once, a rumor spread in his city concerning the shochet, ritual slaughterer. The rumormongers alleged that he had acted inappropriately. The community's rav insisted that the shochet be deposed from his position. They could not tolerate a shochet whose morals were suspect. The Apter Rav refused to remove him from his position, claiming that his family relied on him for their sustenance. (Today, we see nothing wrong with character assassination, and, if it entails the loss of livelihood for the victim, it is just too bad. In our unbridled zeal to uphold the Torah we forget and lose sight of the human being factor, too often allowing someone's life to be ruined based upon rumor.) The rav argued, quoting Chazal who permit a zealous Jew to kill someone whose moral turpitude has been unleashed to the point that he is cohabiting with a gentile. If such a person could be killed, he certainly could be subject to losing his business.

The Apter Rav replied, "I interpret that Chazal differently. I view kanaim as tzaddikim, truly righteous Jews, whose love for their errant brother is overwhelming. They look for every opportunity to save him and encourage his return. Pogin bo means pray for him. As we find the word pegia used in the context of prayer: Va'yifga bamakom, "He (Yaakov Avinu) encountered the place" (he prayed there) (Bereishis 28:11) bo, for him. The true kanai, righteous person who cares for his brother, should pray for him, pray that he returns to the proper path of Torah".

Horav Aryeh Levin, zl, the venerable Tzaddik of Yerushalayim, would tender his "rebuke" in such a manner. One Friday night, after candle lighting, Rav Aryeh was walking to shul, when a secular Jew came over and asked for directions. The man held a lit cigarette in his hands and continued smoking as he walked with Rav Aryeh in the direction of his destination. While it was quite difficult for Rav Aryeh to walk on Shabbos alongside a man who was smoking, he never for one moment forgot his etiquette. He inquired about the man's health and welfare and when they parted ways, he wished him well.

During their conversation, the man became overwhelmed with embarrassment. He knew that it was Shabbos, a time in which one is not permitted to smoke. Yet, he had the audacity to approach the Tzaddik of Yerushalayim while smoking a cigarette! The man threw away his cigarette and remarked, "Rebbe! I have never deferred to anyone, but this time I will. I cannot smoke in front of the Rav. In fact, I accept upon myself never to smoke on Shabbos!"

We can see from here that treating a person with respect and warmth might achieve the desired rebuke effectively without harsh rebuke and voice raising.

Another time, Rav Aryeh left for shul on Friday night and chanced upon an ice cream store that was quite busy. In fact, the line of customers waiting to purchase ice cream extended around the block. It was Shabbos, and these people were clearly in the process of desecrating the holy day. It goes without saying that the owner whose shop was open was partially responsible for this sacrilege. True, if his store would be shuttered, they would find another place to purchase their ice cream on Shabbos; nonetheless, he was playing a leading role in their chillul Shabbos.

Rav Aryeh entered the store, sat down at one of the tables and groaned, "Shabbos!" He arose from the chair and left the store. Five minutes later, the storekeeper closed the store, and the line of customers dispersed. A few days later, the storekeeper met Rav Aryeh and explained, "When I saw the Rav's reaction to my chillul Shabbos, a true expression of pain over a brother's desecration of a mitzvah which is so dear, I felt that I could no longer be open on Shabbos. No one ever rebuked me in such a manner. The Rav made me see the aveirah, sin, in a manner that I never saw before".

This is the definition of kanaus for Hashem. One personally feels Hashem's pain.

Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon HaKohen, turned back My wrath from upon Bnei Yisrael, when he zealously avenged My vengeance among them. (25:11)

It is not always about who one is or from whom one descends. It is about: how much one cares; how concerned he is; if he is willing to take responsibility - or remain indifferent - like everyone else around him. Ichpasius - concern, a feeling of responsibility - this is what Pinchas demonstrated, explains Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl. Klal Yisrael was there watching, most of them probably stunned beyond belief. How could this be happening to us? How could such an outrage occur in the holy camp? While they stood there questioning, Pinchas took action. Why? Because he cared. Ichpasius - he was concerned for the moral fiber, the continued sacredness of our People. This is why he is Eliyahu HaNavi, and why he will be the harbinger of our ultimate Redemption, because he cared - and continues to care.

Rav Pincus observes that shedding tears during the Three Weeks, Nine Days, and Tishah B'Av, is not a mandated halachah in the Shulchan Aruch. It is, however, an expression of ichpasius, concern, empathy, solidarity, with - and for - the Jewish People. One who cares, weeps. One who does not care, does not weep. Hashem waits for those tears, because they are tears of someone who cares. Hashem waits for those people who show their concern for Am Yisrael, who care about the long galus, exile, which we are in.

Some people are not up to crying. Nonetheless, they feel that during the Bein Hametzarim, Three Weeks, a sense of mourning, sadness, should prevail. Music, weddings, joyful celebrations are just not in vogue. During the Nine days, our sense of mourning becomes more intense, more impressive, because we feel the pain. We care.

Because he took vengeance for his G-d, and atoned for the Bnei Yisrael. (25:13)

In the Sefer Agra D'Pirka, Horav Tzvi Elimelech, zl, m'Dinov (popularly known as the Bnei Yissachar), quotes Horav Shlomo, zl, m'Karlin, who cites a Midrash (which is not extant): Hashem commanded Eliyahu HaNavi to come to Brissim, circumcision ceremonies. Eliyahu was not happy about this, expressing his concern due to his natural aversion to sin. (Eliyahu is Pinchas, who exacted vengeance for Hashem against Zimri.) How could one who is a kanai, zealot, come to the Bris in which the father is a non-practicing Jew? Hashem replied, "I will forgive him". Eliyahu continued, "What if the guests are sinners?" Hashem countered, "I will also forgive them". Eliyahu asked one more question, "If the Mohel, ritual circumciser, is a sinner?" Hashem said, "I will forgive him too". Eliyahu did not agree to attend the Bris until Hashem guaranteed him that He would forgive all of the attendees.

The Bnei Yissachar now explains the above pasuk, "Because he took vengeance for his G-d, and he atoned for Bnei Yisrael. Due to Pinchas/Eliyahu's inflexibility concerning compromise with a sinner, because of his zealousness borne of love for Hashem, Hashem forgave all of the sinners involved in the Shittim debacle. Eliyahu attends Brissim as a testament to Hashem's promise to grant forgiveness to the attendees of a Bris. Otherwise, Eliyahu would not attend.

Horav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zl, wonders how a Bris could have a greater power of forgiveness than Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year; the day referred to as the Day of Atonement atones only if the sinner sincerely repents. Otherwise, it passes, and he continues to remain an unrepentant sinner. Yet, attending a Bris is a guarantee of forgiveness. What does a Bris have that Yom Kippur does not? Rav Shlomo Zalman explains that the Bris has Eliyahu HaNavi who cannot tolerate the spiritual stain created by sin and sinners. As a result, Hashem gave him an assurance that He would absolve the sinners. Thus, a Bris is a propitious opportunity for spiritual ascendancy. Perhaps, if we would realize the auspiciousness of this occasion and the extraordinary opportunity available for us (especially if we are in need of a yeshuah, salvation), we would do more than grab a bagel and run. Our mere presence has a personal spiritual effect. Why squander it?

Eliyahu HaNavi visits with us during another occasion: the Pesach Seder, when we celebrate yetzias Mitzrayim, the Egyptian exodus. Why Eliyahu? He is, after all, the herald of the Final Redemption. Perhaps there is a deeper meaning. Eliyahu HaNavi is referred to as Malach HaBris, since he attends every celebration. He serves as a testament that Hashem's People still adhere to the Bris, covenant. The Korban Pesach may be eaten only by a Jew who is circumcised. An areil, uncircumcised Jew, may not partake. Korban Pesach and Bris Milah go hand in hand. Therefore, following every Bris and every Seder, Eliyahu serves as our intercessor to Hashem.

The name of the slain Yisraelite who was slain with the Midyanite woman was Zimri ben Salu, leader of a father's house of the Shimonites. (25:14)

Rashi comments, "In a place where the Torah traces the ancestry of a tzaddik, righteous one, for praise, it gives the ancestry of the rasha, evil one, for disparagement". In the previous parsha, when the Torah describes the immoral outrage committed by Zimri, the perpetrator is not identified by name. It is mentioned here only by way of contrasting with Pinchas' ancestry. Pinchas' ancestry is introduced to his credit, in order to underscore that he upheld the tradition of his grandfather, Aharon HaKohen. Zimri's lineage is recorded to his disparagement, as if to imply that, although he was a leader of the tribe of Shimon, he debased himself publicly.

The Shlah Hakadosh questions the placement of the pasuk, "I will remember My covenant with Yaakov and also My covenant with Yitzchak and also my Covenant with Avraham will I remember" (Vayikra 26:41) within the Tochachah, Rebuke (at the end). Hashem's remembering the merit of the Patriarchs does not seem to be a rebuke. If anything, it is a blessing. The Shlah explains that, indeed, the mention of our glorious lineage is in and of itself a glaring denunciation of our sinful behavior. When our lofty pedigree is factored in with the sin, the transgression is magnified. We should have known better.

Shearis Menachem advances this idea in connection with the Torah's mention of Zimri's yichus, ancestry, for the purpose of his disparagement. There is a concept stated in the Talmud (Bava Kamma 50a) Davar she'oso tzaddik mizta'er bo, yikashel bo zaro? "Can it be that something over which that righteous person was distressed (for the public's sake), his child should stumble (and meet her demise) through it?" Chazal refer to Nechunya chofer sichin, ditch digger, who gave of himself selflessly, by digging cisterns to provide water for the sake of the olei regel, Festival pilgrims. His daughter had fallen into a cistern. The great Tanna, Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa, said that it was unconceivable that the daughter of this tzaddik should meet her death in a cistern for which her father had sacrificed himself.

Having said this, we wonder how a descendant of Shimon ben Yaakov could have demonstrated such moral turpitude, when, in fact, it was his grandfather Shimon together with Levi who slew the male population of Shechem for their part in the violation of their sister, Dinah. When a grandfather is willing to sacrifice his life to uphold the moral fiber of Klal Yisrael, we are hard-pressed to believe that his grandson could commit the exact opposite act by publicly cohabiting with a gentile. How did this utter debasement of a family for whom moral purity was a hallmark, a standard by which to live, occur? How was it that Zimri could transgress specifically in the area that his grandfather had excelled? This, explains Shearis Menachem, is the underlying motif of Rashi's comment: the Torah mentions the rasha for his disparagement. Zimri's act of debauchery was in direct contrast with the lofty ideals of his family's righteous ancestor.

The question does not go away. How is it that an einikel, grandchild/descendant, of Shimon committed such a shameless act of moral licentiousness? The practice today is to sweep under the rug everything with which we are uncomfortable, to ignore the outrage by saying, "It happens". Well - it should not happen, and, if it does, we should search for a reason, some genealogical taint, where something might just not have been "right" and generations later came to the fore as an outright sin. Indeed, when we consider the incredible kedushah, holiness, of the people we are addressing, any slight inconsistency can, over time, have dreadful ramifications.

Both Shimon and Levi took their sister's side when they wiped out Shechem. They were willing to sacrifice their lives; yet, on his deathbed, Yaakov Avinu cursed their rage. He chastised their preoccupation with the weaponry of violence, alluding to the future rebellers, Korach, a Levi, and Zimri, from Shimon, led by their descendants. We find that it was Shimon who had said derisively (concerning Yosef), "Look! That dreamer is coming". He was the one that threw Yosef into the pit, and he was the one whom Yosef took as hostage in Egypt. Both the descendants of Levi and the descendants of Shimon were poor. Leviim had to go to the silos to collect their tithes and terumos. Descendants of Shimon were relegated to poverty and to positions as scribes and teachers of young children. In other words, both Shimon and Levi's descendants were placed in positions through which they could achieve extraordinary merit - serving in the Bais Hamikdash, and educating the future of our people. It sort of implies to them that their qualities were such that, if used correctly, they could engender untold kedushah. If not, they could foment rebellion and immorality. Their qualities were very much like radiation: it can cure and eradicate malignancy; and it can burn and scar permanently. It all depends how, where and for how long it is used. I guess the same applies to all of our qualities. They all have a time and place. Without proper guidance, it is often difficult to discern the correct "time" and "place".

He leaned his hands upon him and commanded him. (27:23)

Rashi notes that, when Hashem instructed Moshe Rabbeinu to transfer his authority to Yehoshua by means of semichah, "leaning of hands", the Almighty said, yadcha, "your hand" in the singular, implying one hand. Moshe, however, applied both hands, generously, like a vessel which is full and brimming over and filled him with his wisdom to become the nation's next leader.

Horav Avraham Pam, zl, (cited by Rabbi Sholom Smith in a Vort from Rav Pam) explains that when we bless someone by placing both hands on his head, it is an indication that it is executed with love. It is not burdensome, an obligation which we are compelled to carry out. Two hands means the person, indeed, wishes to transmit fully the blessings which he is about to render.

If Hashem had instructed Moshe to use one hand, why did he use two hands? He was not adhering to Hashem's instructions. Perhaps, we might suggest the following. The gematria, numerical equivalent, of ahavah is thirteen. Likewise, the numerical equivalent of echad, one, is also thirteen. Thus, when (as the Rosh Yeshivah suggests) Moshe used two hands to express his ahavah, he was actually (in a way) using one, since ahavah and echad had the same gematria: when there is love (two hands), it becomes one.

We might derive another important lesson. When a rebbe seeks to transmit his wisdom to his student seamlessly, it is best executed using the medium of "two hands" - love. Without the inherent love that (should) exist(s), the student might not receive the "complete package".

Va'ani Tefillah

Atah gibor l'olam Hashem, You are eternally mighty, Hashem.

Eternity is a long time. For a mortal to comment concerning Hashem's eternal power seems almost misplaced, since the mortal is only here for a short interval of time. What does he know about eternity? How can he render testament concerning something to which he is not privy? Eitz Yosef explains that, in contrast to human might, which is short-lived, Hashem's might endures for eternity and is never diminished. This can be observed from the past; Hashem has been with us, guiding the world from day one. While the future, forever, eternity, is distant and not within our reach or scope of vision; it is something in which we believe as the result of the past.

The Brisker Rav, zl, explains gibor l'olam, to mean eternally mighty. Hashem is always in control - even when mortal man does not see His power, even when it appears, as in harsh exile, that human control is guiding our destiny - Hashem is still there in all of His glory and strength. Indeed, whatever power the gentile persecutor has over us is from Him. The famous question was asked by the weak of faith: "Where was G-d during the Holocaust?" The response is even better known (but unfortunately not always incorporated in our system of belief): "Where was He not?" He remains in full control of the Universe.


In loving memory
of our parents and brother

Cy and Natalie Handler
3 Av 5772 - 24 Teves 5771
Jeremy Handler
19 Tamuz 5766

by the Handler Family


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