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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon HaKohen. (25:11)

Rashi notes the Torah's tracing of Pinchas' lineage to his paternal grandfather, Aharon HaKohen. He explains that Pinchas had his detractors who claimed that his act of vengeance was not motivated by pure intentions. They asserted that, as the maternal grandson of Yisro, he was following in the spirit of an individual who had served every idol. The fact that Yisro arrived at the decision that they were all figments of overactive pagan imaginations meant nothing to these people. When one decides to denigrate someone, reason and rationality become scarce. Thus, the Torah records his pedigree as descending from Aharon HaKohen, to emphasize that Pinchas had two grandfathers. For those who had a problem with Yisro, let them consider Aharon HaKohen.

In his sefer Mitzion Michlal Yofi, Horav Avigdor HaLevi Nebentzhal, Shlita, offers two reasons which have great halachic practicality for the significance of tracing Pinchas' pedigree back to Aharon. In the Talmud Zevachim 101b, Chazal ask why Moshe Rabbeinu did not look at his sister Miriam's negaim, skin plagues, to determine if they were tzaraas, thus requiring her to be secluded for seven-days. The Talmud explains that although Moshe was considered to have Kohen Gadol, High Priest, status, he was still not included among those who are Bnei Aharon, sons of Aharon. Since he did not have this specific pedigree, he was not permitted to rule concerning the validity of tzaraas.

We derive from Chazal that a special condition concerning mar'os negaim, viewing plagues, is that the individual who rules must be mi'zera Aharon, a descendant of Aharon HaKohen. One who is a Kohen, but does not descend from Aharon, who is granted this unique status for reasons other than his pedigree, is excluded from ruling on negaim. This includes such giants as Moshe, who was granted every distinguished status, as well as: Melech, king, Kohen Gadol, Rabban Shel Kol Yisrael, quintessential Torah teacher of the Jewish People; and Pinchas, who was granted Kohen status as a result of his ma'ase kanaus, act of zealotry. Imagine making it up there, even having Kohen status, and still not to be able to rule on negaim. Thus, the Torah emphasizes that not only was Pinchas granted the Kehunah, he was given the status of zera Aharon, his pedigree ascending to his grandfather, Aharon.

Alternatively, Rav Nebentzhal cites the Talmud Taanis 11b that states that during the Shivaas Yemei Miluim, Seven Inauguration Days for the Mishkan, Moshe Rabbeinu acted as Kohen Gadol, but did not wear the Shemoneh Begadim, Eight Priestly vestments, reserved specifically for the High Priest. Rashi explains that the command concerning Bigdei Kehunah was given only to Aharon and his sons. Moshe - despite the fact that he was the acting Kohen Gadol - was not Aharon. Thus, he served wearing white linen vestments.

This implies that the mitzvah of Bigdei Kehunah was given specifically to Aharon and his male descendants. Moshe was the quintessential Rebbe, the holiest man in Klal Yisrael, the one who spoke directly with the Almighty; yet, he was not commanded to wear Bigdei Kehunah. We now understand that had Pinchas not have been descended from Aharon, he, too, would not have been able to wear Bigdei Kehunah. After all, he should not have been different than his great-uncle, Moshe. By delineating his lineage as descending from Aharon, Pinchas received full status as a Kohen.

Turned back My wrath from upon Bnei Yisrael when he zealously avenged Me. (25:11)

Sforno explains that by acting publicly in front of the entire nation, Pinchas was able to catalyze their atonement. Their sin was indifference, as they watched helplessly as those who cohabited with the Moavite women brought down not only themselves, but the entire nation. When Jews publicly desecrate Hashem's Name, we must admonish them - at first diplomatically, then with greater emphasis, but never allowing ourselves to descend to their level. Name calling, stone throwing, and cursing, are not behaviors that religious Jews do. We also do not ignore disgrace. A fine line exists between subtle protest and indifference. Whoever has difficulty defining this fine line has greater problems. When the Jews of that time looked away from the sins of their brethren, they became partners and facilitators in their crime. When they allowed Pinchas to act definitively with zealousness for Hashem's honor, they atoned for their earlier indifference.

When the Satmar Rebbe, zl, once visited Yerushalayim, he was approached by Horav Amram Blau, zl, who poured out a heavy heart concerning the dearth of zealots who were prepared to "fight" on behalf of kavod Shomayim, the glory of Heaven. This was at a time when the Holy Land was undergoing tremendous turmoil, with the religious on one side and the nouveau Israelis taking sides. Needless to say, the discord was agitated on a regular basis, as religious life as it had been lived for generations was being impugned, misrepresented and disgraced. Rav Blau was the head of those whose devotion to the protection of religious life in Eretz Yisrael was sacrosanct. He shared his pain with the Rebbe, hoping to hear words of encouragement.

The Rebbe instructed him to continue with his religious protests. Rav Blau replied that, alas, most of the time he was alone in taking a stand, finding it very difficult to garner support from the hamon am, average Jew. Why should more Jews not answer the call and rally to the protests? Only a handful were ready to join in this holy endeavor. The Rebbe responded, "You should be happy that your co-religionists are not banding together in protest against you!" The Rebbe quoted the Sforno to support his intimation that when it relates to kanaus, one must be concerned with garnering the support of his original "supporters." Regrettably, often when one stands up for what is right, he discovers that he stands alone.

When he zealously avenged Me. (25:11)

Far be it from any zealot to claim that he is doing anything less than fighting the good fight. His actions are sincere and truly l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven. Indeed, he becomes mortally insulted if one were to question his motives, to suggest even remotely that his actions might have a little bit of "himself" involved. Was he grandstanding, or was he sincere? Does he care about himself or is he all for the sake of Heaven? In an effort to graphically portray the meaning of kanaus, zealotry, and present a perspective on the idea of l'shem Shomayim, Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, presents a fabricated story placing himself in the star role. This story could be about anyone of us - so practical are its implications. Regrettably, there are some who will take this story as some sort of joke, ignoring that the narrative is actually about them.

It was Shabbos Rosh Chodesh, and Rav Sholom HaKohen was invited to be scholar-in-residence at one of the moshavim surrounding Yerushalayim. It involved speaking in the various shuls over the course of Shabbos. Rav Sholom did not mind. It was what he did best. Friday night, he delivered a brilliant, animated lecture on the parshah, thrilling the packed crowd of avid listeners. It was for this reason that "subconsciously" he was a bit "surprised" that he was not given the first aliyah, to be called up to the Torah as a Kohen. Rav Sholom was a guest and a well-known Kohen. He figured that the gabbai who was calling people to the Torah was saving Maftir for their distinguished guest. Apparently, that was also not the case, since another member of the shul was given the privilege of reading the Haftorah.

Rav Sholom conceded that he was sort of surprised, but assured himself that they were probably going to ask him to lead the Mussaf prayer instead. This also was not going to happen, since the man who had read the Haftorah immediately continued with the Mussaf service. As surprised as Rav Sholom was about the series of events, he added that he was a bit upset with himself. After all, why would he make a "to-do" about not receiving a minor honor? Is this the reason that he had spent his life studying, teaching, admonishing others? He should be an example of self-control and humility. Having come to this realization, the venerable Maggid listened to the recital of the Mussaf Shemoneh Esrai.

The Chazzan began chanting the service, unfortunately forgetting to insert the words, Atah Yatzarta, in place of Tikanta Shabbos. That Shabbos was Rosh Chodesh, and, as a result, the Shemoneh Esrai should have been changed. Hearing the error, Rav Sholom immediately gave a loud bang, "Atah Yatzarta - nu! Atah Yatzarta, nu!" It was as if the Chazzan had acted in the most heinous manner, when, in fact, it had been a simple, correctable error.

Suddenly, Rav Sholom looked deep and hard at the crowd seated before him and said, "Yes, I corrected him, and I certainly acted appropriately. Was it l'shem Shomayim, however, or was I simply happy to 'avenge' my honor?" With these words, the Maggid touched on what is a sore point among many of us. We all want to reach out to others, to correct, to repair, to encourage, to admonish, to give hope, but is it for them - or for us? There are wonderful baalei chessed who go out of their way to help others, but what is their true motivation? How does one discern the truth?

It all boils down to how we act under pressure: when things do not work out exactly as we planned; when the subject upon whom we are focusing does not respond exactly as we had expected - then we show our true colors. We are there to remind them - and keep them reminded - of their error. Why? Is it l'shem Shomayim? Or perhaps it is to assuage our ego.

I think that the answer lies in the words b'kano es kinaasi, "when he zealously avenged Me." It took Hashem Himself to make that statement, to ratify Pinchas' actions. It took the Almighty to give His approbation validating Pinchas' kanaus. Hashem said he acted in My behalf. The Almighty attested to the veracity of Pinchas' act. Are we prepared to have our actions held to such scrutiny?

Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon HaKohen turned back My wrath from upon the Bnei Yisrael. (25:11)

If Hashem actually took umbrage with the entire nation, why did Pinchas only kill Zimri? He should have gone on a rampage and punished more than the Prince of Shevet Shimon. Horav Avraham Abuchatzeira, zl, explains that while it is true that many others sinned, a major difference existed with regard to their sin. They left the Jewish camp and carried out their perverse moral debauchery in private. They did not have the chutzpah, audacity, to bring it into the Jewish camp. Zimri's act was not only morally repugnant, it was an audacious, public flaunting of his sin, a desecration of the defining moral principles upon which Judaism is built.

This is so true and, regrettably, quite common. There are those who will not settle to transgress in private, to defer to their moral weakness in a manner that does not impinge on the sensitivities of others. They do not believe in keeping secrets. They openly flaunt their indiscretions in a manner that brings shame - not only on themselves - but on the entire collective Jewish nation. If they have a problem with halachah, they will publicize their feelings while acting in a manner that calls attention to their desecration of everything that is holy. Why not? They have a problem with the Torah's restrictions. What right do the "rabbis" have to issue bans on activities which impede their religious expression. I write this as I sit in the shul just off the Kosel Maaravi proper, thinking that even here in one of Judaism's holiest sites, there are those who decry what they perceive as religious gender preference. Before they worry about the Tallis and Tefillin, the mechitzah at the Kosel, and other complaints, let them address their Shemiras Shabbos, Kashrus, family purity. Tznius, modesty, privacy, not calling attention to oneself, is the hallmark of a Jew. There are so many other ways to express one's religious feelings - without transgressing Judaism's basic principles.

Therefore, say: Behold! I give him My covenant of peace. (25:12)

Was there no other appropriate reward for Pinchas? It is not that the blessing of peace is not a wonderful reward. Is it practical? After all, by his actions, he prevented the plague that was taking a mortal toll on the nation from spreading. Perhaps his reward should be such that his heroic efforts be recognized with greater emphasis. The Pnei Menachem explains that Hashem's reward to Pinchas was indeed very practical and suitably appropriate.

The deciding factor which determines the integrity of an act of zealousness is whether, once it is over, the situation has been resolved, the parties that had been in dispute have settled their differences. Peace and harmony have prevailed. We now will see of what mettle the kanai is comprised. If the zealot returns to his previous status quo, his Gemorah and everything else that was his original pastime, this is an indication that he is, in fact, a righteous zealot whose veracity is above question. If after it is all over, however, the zealot looks for more "work," it is an indication that he is not really concerned with peace and harmony. His primary objective is to create a tumult. Once this one comes to an end, he will find another one - even if it means generating a new machlokes, controversy. He lives for dispute. He loves to get himself dirty. He thrives on shmutz.

The true kanai is happy when he has no work. Peace stands in stark opposition to kanaus. Peace "undermines" everything that he has "fought" so hard to achieve. Pinchas' act of zealotry was the apogee of veracity. He had no vested interests. All he wanted was peace, so that he could go back to his learning and avodas Hashem, service of the Almighty. Thus, Hashem rewarded him with Bris Shalom, My covenant of Peace. After all, it was what he really wanted.

Behold! I give him My covenant of Peace. (25:12)

Pinchas stood up for Hashem and, as a result, the Almighty rewarded him with the covenant of peace. Sforno writes, "Since Pinchas fought My fight, I will save him from any discord and controversy. He will be blessed with peace." Interestingly, Pinchas' reward is mentioned by the Torah prior to the mention of the action that catalyzed this reward. Should it not be the other way around? The Midrash says B'din hu she'yitol scharo, "It is only right that Pinchas should receive his reward." It is as if the reward is the primary objective. Why should this be? Is there any mitzvah that does not incur reward? Every action creates a reaction. If the original action is positive, the reaction will likewise be of a positive nature. Why did Pinchas' action stimulate such an intense reaction?

Horav Yaakov Neiman, zl, offers a practical response which goes to the very core principles of mitzvah performance. We must accept that anyone who expects a reward for serving Hashem is no different than a young child who refuses to partake of his meal unless he is provided with a prize. Any sane person who possesses a modicum of intelligence understands that eating is good for a person. The nourishment he receives is what keeps him healthy and alive. On the contrary, such a person should thank his benefactor for providing him with food.

It is quite similar concerning mitzvah performance. We act as if we are doing Hashem a favor, when, in fact, He is providing us with the greatest gift. One who observes the Torah and performs its mitzvos, experiences a profound sense of satisfaction in the knowledge that he is executing Hashem's Will. He experiences a euphoric feeling of joy that he has properly fulfilled Hashem's command. With this in mind, how can a person who has achieved such satisfaction and joy ask for more? How can he request reward - on top of all that? Thus, the individual who insists on obtaining reward in return for his positive deeds and mitzvah observance is truly not thinking rationally.

This idea applies to all mitzvos of the Torah - except the zealous response that Pinchas had to Zimri's blatant act of immorality. By its very nature, an act of zealousness may not elicit any personal pleasure or satisfaction, for then it is not pure. If the zealot has personal benefit from his kanaus, it is no longer kanaus. It is a sin. Rav Neiman quotes Rabbeinu Yonah who writes in his Shaarei Teshuvah, "Essentially, exposing falsifiers and chameleons is a sin. A dispensation is made during an instance which involves a chillul Hashem, desecration of Hashem's Name. Under such circumstances, it is an aveirah liShmah, a sin committed for the sake of Hashem. This dispensation is permitted only under condition that the individual derives absolutely no benefit, gain, or pleasure. He is acting with a pure heart."

We now understand why Chazal use the words, B'din hu she'yitol scharo: It is halachically correct that Pinchas should receive his reward. Since Pinchas acted properly l'shem Shomayim, he did not derive any personal gain from his actions. It is, therefore, only right that he receive his due reward.

May Hashem, G-d of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the assembly, who shall go out before them and come in before them. (27:16,17)

Moshe Rabbeinu alludes to the type of leader that Klal Yisrael needs, an individual who is sensitive to the needs of each member of this diverse nation, who will lead and not be led, who will place the security of his people above all else. Horav Yechezkel, zl, m'Kuzmir once spoke with a rav who was regrettably well-known for his isolation from his community. He remained aloof, sequestering himself in his study all day. When asked why he did not have greater involvement in the daily endeavors and issues of his community, he responded, "It is below my dignity. It is not my cup of tea."

Rav Yechezkel pointed to the mezuzah on the door and said, "The mezuzah has value as a protecting agent only as long as it is on the front door. If one were to remove the mezuzah from the front door and place it on the doorpost of any room within the home, it would lose its efficacy. Why? The door to outside may not be the most impressive and exalted place to position the mezuzah; perhaps, inside the house on the door to the study would be a more distinguished setting for the mezuzah. Obviously, in order to protect the house the mezuzah must remain outside the house.

"The same idea applies to a rav. A rav who does not pursue kavod, glory, but rather cares about his community and is actively involved and oversees every aspect of his flock - he will protect the community. One who cloisters himself in his house, shutting everyone else out, will have little effect on his community. This idea is alluded to by the pasuk which asks for a leader who will stand at the "gate" and observe the "goings" and "comings" of his community. It might not be the most glorious position, but if he does not act in this manner, he will have no community to worry about."

Hashem said to Moshe, "Take to yourself Yehoshua… you shall place some of your majesty upon him. (27:18, 20)

Moshe Rabbeinu was instructed to induct Yehoshua, his faithful disciple, as his successor. In describing this induction, the Torah says, "You shall place some of your majesty upon him." This prompts Chazal (Bava Basra 75) to say that not all of Moshe's majesty was transferred to Yehoshua. The face of Moshe was like the sun and that of Yehoshua was like the moon. This means that Yehoshua was a reflection of Moshe's greatness, but not his equal. Chazal conclude with a statement made by the Zekeinim, Elders, who witnessed this change in "illumination" between Rebbe and talmid, teacher and student. Oy l'oso bushah; Oy l'oso klimah,"Woe, for that shame! Woe, for that disgrace!" the simple explanation of this enigmatic statement is: What a shame and disgrace that the majesty of the very next prophet, Yehoshua, is so much lower than that of his Rebbe, Moshe.

What shame and disgrace were experienced by the Zekeinim? The Chida explains that Yehoshua merited to become Moshe's successor, due to his devotion to the little things. He did not care that some of the functions of his service might be demeaning. For instance, he would clean up the study hall nightly, regardless of its condition. He saw to it that every chair was returned to its rightful place. The Zekeinim did not do this. It was below their dignity to carry out such menial labor. True, it was the bais ha'medrash, study hall. But, they were the Zekeinim! They were ashamed to do what Yehoshua was doing. This was their bushah, shame, and klimah, disgrace. Now, it had all changed. When they saw Yehoshua become Moshe's successor, when they saw the illumination of his face, they became envious. Woe to that bushah and klimah, shame and disgrace, that we claimed had prevented us from cleaning up the bais ha'medrash. It did not stop Yehoshua from doing what was right. Then we were ashamed; thus, now we will be Yehoshua's disciples - instead of being the teachers.

It happens all of the time; we refuse to get our hands "soiled," delegating the role to someone else. Our self-centered arrogance convinces us that some jobs are simply disgraceful and below our dignity. Later, we discover that the path to greatness and distinction was via that job which we eschewed. We should learn that any activity which revolves around Torah is not shameful - whether it means being a waiter, working in the kitchen, etc. If it is Torah-related, it is not disgraceful. Look at Yehoshua's reward, and let it serve as an inspiration.

In his inimitable manner, the Kotzker Rebbe, zl, explained that the statement, "Woe to that bushah; Woe to that klimah!" was not expressed by the Zekeinim. Rather, it is Chazal's comment, bemoaning the sad state of affairs whereby people were measuring their Rebbe: Moshe is so great. Yehoshua is not as great. This, too, is regrettably quite common. People determine the Torah status and distinction of their rabbis, Roshei yeshivah, and spiritual leaders. Individuals who are still in need of spiritual guidance themselves determine who is worthy of leadership - and who is not. Is anything more shameful?

Va'ani Tefillah

Yotzer hameoros. Who fashions lights.

In concluding this brachah, we thank Hashem for "lights" in the plural sense: physical light; and Ohr HaShechinah, spiritual light emanating from the Divine Presence. We cannot survive without these two lights. The physical light/sun provides our physical sustenance. It is the source of life and health. Without the spiritual light we live in a vacuum with nowhere to go. Life has no meaning without its spiritual source. Furthermore, without our gratitude for the physical benefits which we derive, we cannot sufficiently be grateful for the benefits of Torah. The luminaries activate certain qualities which are potentially inherent in us. Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, observes that, without light, we have no shame. This enables man to develop the qualities of character which are prerequisite for Torah. After all, Derech eretz kadmah laTorah, "Character refinement/mentchlichkeit precedes the Torah." This blessing serves as a fitting preface for Ahavah Rabbah, the blessing of the Torah.

In loving memory
Jeremy Handler
Yaakov Avraham ben Azariah Binyomin z"l
niftar 19 Tammuz 5766
July 15, 2006

by the Handler Family

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