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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


When he zealously avenged Me among them. (25:11)

Kanaus, zealousness, is not a trait that one should exhibit indiscriminately. As the paradigm of the kanai, zealot, Pinchas exemplifies the true zealot. He acts definitively for the sake of the community, placing the needs of the klal, congregation, above his own safety and reputation. The kanai is not lauded; dinners are not rendered in his honor, nor does he have a large collection of friends. People are actually afraid of him, never knowing where and when he will strike; what will anger him; what he will see that is wrong. The kanai lives in a select circle, revered by those who understand his value to the community, spurned by those who become the subjects of his mission. What makes a person a kanai? Why do some express their revulsion to sin in one way, while others never even flinch, never bristle when they see another Jew committing a sin? Is kanaus a Jewish trait or is it "cultural"?

Horav Menachem Mendel zl, m'Kotzk suggests that b'socham, "[When he zealously avenged Me] among them," is the origin of Jewish zealotry. "Among them," Pinchas inculcated the trait of kanaus within the Jewish psyche. How? What did he do? The Kotzker explains that Pinchas infused us with intolerance for sin. We cannot withstand spiritually offensive behavior. We do not despise the sinner; we hate the sin!

The Chasam Sofer applies the word, b'socham, differently. What motivated Pinchas to act zealously? What prompted him to risk his life and reputation by taking the lives of Zimri and his supporters? It was the b'socham, "among them." Pinchas contemplated the passion and fervor which the sinner exuded in executing his sin. Why should he not at least expend the same effort in preventing sin as the sinner had done in executing a sin? This motivated his response to Zimri's spiritual mutiny.

The basic issue is tolerance of sin. We have become so complacent, so accepting of the sinner, and - by extension - his sin, that we have no room left in our hearts for zealotry. A person must be repulsed by the sin; he must feel revulsion; he must feel personally and collectively threatened by the effects of sin. While kanaus should not be personal (he must act out of love for Hashem), unless one takes it personally, he will not react zealously.

Veritably, everyone felt the way that Pinchas did. The others just did not have the courage and resolution to act as he did. Pinchas acted out what every Jew felt in his heart. He revealed the kinaah that was actually b'socham, "within them."

Throughout the generations, self-styled zealots have always attempted to grab the mantle of kanaus from Pinchas and claim it for themselves. Regrettably, they have missed the primary ingredient in kanaus: sincerity born from ahavas Yisrael and ahavas Hashem. Only one who loves Jews and Judaism may take umbrage when he observes his fellow Jew desecrating these principles. One must take into account the mindset of the sinner before he criticizes him.

Today, especially in Eretz Yisrael, we have developed a newly-minted mutant kanai, who reacts to - and even looks for - every opportunity to squelch any anti-Torah activity - regardless of the means. Sadly, secular Jews provide much opportunity for these misguided zealots to do their thing, which is nothing more than a glorified chillul Hashem, desecration of Hashem's Name. These hooligans are neither zealots, nor do they represent the true Torah world which adheres to ahavas Yisrael and ahavas Hashem. On the other hand, this does not mean that the actions of the secular Jews do not hurt. They look for every opportunity to undermine Judaism, Hashem and the Torah world in order to promote their own destructive agenda. When we strike at them in a manner that gives credit to the extremist groups of the 60's, we provide them with fodder for their continued denigration of Hashem.

Pinchas acted violently; therefore those Jews acting against secularism feel that they have a right to be violent in their protests. They fail to realize - nor do they want to accept - that Pinchas was carrying out the halachah of boel aramis - kanaim pogin bo, "One who is cohabiting with a gentile - zealots may strike him." Throwing light bulbs at baby carriages; hot coffee at women, stones at cars: these acts do not belong under the purview of kanaus. In a meaningful article on the topic of kanaus, Rabbi Moshe Grylak relates that he approached Horav Elazar M. Shach, zl, concerning the demonstrations that took place each Shabbos on Bar Ilan Street and on the Ramot road. Typically, ruffians in full Shabbos regalia hurled stones at cars. The venerable Rosh Yeshivah said, "It is quite possible that the real mechallelei Shabbos here are the stone throwers. Throwing stones is absolutely prohibited in and of itself, since one incurs the risk of killing someone. Aside from this, the Shabbos demonstrators themselves are creating Shabbos desecration; rather, they should vote in the municipal elections and create a shift in the balance of power within the government. With a religious majority, much chillul Shabbos can be circumvented."

The attitude one takes toward the chiloni, secular Jew, often determines if the outcome will be positive or hateful. Rabbi Grylak relates the story of a Yerushalmi Jew who lives in the Ezras Torah section of Yerushalayim, bordering on the Ramot road, the scene of weekly Shabbos demonstrations. One Shabbos, during a particularly heavy and violent demonstration, this Jew noticed a car being pummeled by large stones. He quickly took note of the license number of the car, and he made a point the next day to call the license bureau to locate the owner of the vehicle. He immediately went to visit the owner of the car. When he knocked on the door, a child greeted him. When he asked for the child's father, the boy screamed out, "Abba, there is a religious man at the door." The father resisted in the usual manner, "Tell him I already gave money at the office." In other words, all frum, observant, Jews are stereotyped as beggars asking for alms, either for themselves or for others. After all, why else would a chareidi Jew come to "his" neighborhood.

The Yerushalmi was not deterred by the man's jab: "I really must speak with your father, and please tell him I am not here concerning money."

The father appeared a few moments later, apparently hostile and in a not very welcoming mood. "What do you want?" he asked.

The Yerushalmi was nervous, but he was going through with it: "On Shabbat, I noticed you driving in my neighborhood. I saw your car being pummeled with stones. I am here to apologize for the loathsome behavior. I speak on behalf of my neighbors. We want you to know that the rock throwers do not live in our neighborhood. They are rabble rousers who come from elsewhere. We wish you no harm. Apparently, you are new here. Welcome!" With these words, the two parted on good terms, even exchanging phone numbers.

The following Erev Shabbos, the Jew from Ramot phoned the Yerushalmi and said that, from now on, he would take an alternate route to go about his business on Shabbos. The Yerushalmi thanked him and wished him well.

A week later, the man from Ramot called again. "Kavod haRav, the truth is that, while we are not Shabbos observant, we do maintain a kosher home. Can you tell me where we can purchase kosher meat?" he asked.

A few months later, the man from Ramot called again. "Kavod haRav, I am sorry to bother you, but my son will become bar mitzvah in six months. I would very much like to get a pair of Tefillin for him and, since we are going this far, I really need someone to 'acquaint' him with Judaism."

Obviously, the Yerushalmi was only too happy to acquiesce. The end of the story: The boy became bar mitzvah; the Yerushalmi attended; the boy is now a student in good standing in a yeshivah! Rabbi Grylak writes that when he related the story to Rav Shach, the Rosh Yeshivah was moved to tears.

We see around us good people and people that require a serious education concerning: the characteristics of a Torah Jew; how a Torah Jew acts; and the definition of middos tovos, positive character traits. The insignificant riffraff pursue opportunities to gain prominence by following the true kanai and transforming his zealotry into hooliganism and utter violence. This is a reality that the most astute and sincere kanai must fear.

Pinchas was a genuine kanai. He saw the beginnings of a horrific tragedy that would devastate the nation. He acted out of love for the people. Horav Aharon Kotler, zl, was the individual who established America as a Torah stronghold following the decimation of European Jewry during the Holocaust. His efforts on behalf of European Jewry - both in relief and rescue - are legendary. His tolerance level for the foot dragging of the American Jewish establishment when precious lives were at stake was at "zero." He became frustrated when those who could help took their sweet little time and were more concerned with bureaucracy than with Jewish blood.

Rav Kotler did what was necessary, when it was necessary - regardless of the ramifications, both personal and collective. As a true leader, many sought to attach themselves to him and his efforts on behalf of Klal Yisrael. Unfortunately, not all of his followers possessed motives as pure as his. They just wanted to "get the other guy." They were little people seeking significance in their lives.

Once, when one of the primary Jewish organizations in America was becoming bogged down in tedious, protracted bureaucracy, presenting excuse after excuse to justify its non-involvement in the war effort, Rav Aharon asked a student to prepare a car for a ride into Manhattan: "You will take me to the Fifth Avenue headquarters of their organization. I will take a stone and hurl it through their large picture window. A melee will ensue, in which police and reporters will arrive en masse, and they will be forced to wonder why an elderly, white-bearded rabbi was smashing windows on Fifth Avenue. I will tell them, and then the entire world will know that the heads of this organization are accessories to the murder of European Jewry."

Hearing this, a group of younger students crowded around Rav Aharon and each one declared, "I also want to go in." The Rosh Yeshivah told them no, explaining, "For my purposes, one stone is enough."

One stone makes a statement; more than one stone creates a counterproductive tumult.

When he zealously avenged Me among them. (25:11)

Pinchas was acting according to halachah: Boel aramis kanaim pogin bo, "One who cohabits with a gentile, zealous ones may strike him." If so, why is he referred to as a kanai, zealot? He was just doing what any other observant Jew would/should have done. Indeed, Chazal imply that Hashem chastised Moshe Rabbeinu for remaining passive during the moral outrage that took place. As a result, Moshe's gravesite remains unknown to us. Chazal derive from here that one must be "bold as a leopard, as nimble as an eagle, as swift as a deer, and as mighty as a lion in executing the will of Hashem." While this critique is only relative to Moshe's extreme spiritual level, it does at least indicate that kanain pogin bo is a halachah which applies to everyone.

Horav Mordechai Gifter, zl, explains that the punishment of death for a boel aramis may only be carried out by one who is a kanai. One who has achieved this elevated plateau of serving Hashem out of extreme love, he - and only he - may assume the mantle of executioner.

The Rosh Yeshivah explains that, unlike the misguided perception of many, a kanai is not an extremist. Any person who is willing to render his life for Hashem is not an extremist. He is an intelligent human being who has achieved a true level of greatness. He sees with an impeccable clarity what others do not see. His entire life revolves around carrying out the will of G-d. If one's motives are not pristine, he ceases to be a kanai. He is a regular fellow, and, hence, he may not lay a finger on the perpetrator of this immoral act of sacrilege. To paraphrase Rav Gifter, "The kanai sees things from an altogether different perspective. His vision is clear and unambiguous. There is not an iota of deviation in his perspective. Thus, he sees what others do not. The kanai sees a boel aramis for what it really is. Everybody else sees an act of promiscuity. He sees the underpinnings of Judaism being yanked from their moorings. Therefore, he may act - while others may just watch."

Only by lot shall the land be divided; according to the names of the tribes of the father shall they receive it as a possession. According to lot, shall their inheritance be apportioned to them, with due regard for whether they are many or few. (26:55,56)

The land was divided by a system which clearly treats the land as an estate left by the preceding generation, the yotzei Mitzrayim, Jews who participated in the Egyptian exodus. Each of the fathers of those who left Egypt was designated to receive a portion in the Holy Land equivalent to the number of grandsons twenty years of age and older who would eventually enter Eretz Yisrael. This estate could be inherited only by those of the sons who were more than twenty years old when they left Egypt. These sons, in turn, could bequeath the land to those of their own sons who would be more than twenty years old at the time that they entered the Land.

Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, suggests that two distinct lessons can be derived from the land register of the Jewish nation. First and foremost, we see that whatever Hashem promises is "money in the bank." It is so certain to be fulfilled that it must be regarded as an accomplished fact, a "done deal." This included not only those who had already been liberated and stood at the threshold of the Holy Land; but even those who still languished beneath the yoke of the Egyptian taskmasters were to be regarded as the owners of the land promised to them by Hashem. Indeed, they already had legal rights assigned to their descendants accordingly. Hashem's word is enduring. Therefore, halachah views Eretz Yisrael as muchzak, property already owned by the fathers. It is not merely raui, property entitled by law. It was already theirs. Consequently, a b'chor, firstborn, was to receive a double portion in the apportionment of the Land.

Second, we learn a critical lesson concerning the relationship between parents and children and grandparents and grandchildren, and the overriding influence that the older generation has on the younger. Parents' and grandparents' most precious acquisitions are children and grandchildren who remain adherents to the faith of their ancestors. Children and grandchildren who maintain fidelity to their heritage bear witness to the merits of its forebears and even atone for their shortcomings. After all, they cannot be all that bad if they have produced such progeny. Good and honest children and grandchildren are a credit to their forebears.

Notwithstanding all of the trials and tribulations suffered in Egypt, the Jewish spirit was not broken. It was not for a lack of trying, but the Egyptians failed, and 600,000 able-bodied men over the age of twenty years old were worthy of redemption and prepared to accept the spiritual yoke of Heaven Above. This reality was proven again forty years later when, despite all of the aberrations and attrition of travel in the wilderness, 600,000 were found deserving of entering the Land. How did they do it? What catalyzed such strength of character?

Rav Hirsch explains that all of this was the result of the spirit which the ancestors nurtured in their children - even while they slaved in the Egyptian bondage. Each plot of G-d's land which the grandchildren received, they humbly placed, in spirit, at the feet of their grandfathers: "Zaidy, this is yours. This is your conquest. You earned it." The grandchildren would receive this as their inheritance following the passing of their father.

The sons were given the land only b'zchus, as heirs of their fathers and bearers of their names. We see from here that, notwithstanding the father's error that had cost them their own right to enter the land, their children received it instead. Why? These same fathers had their shortcomings, but, nonetheless, they inculcated the correct and proper spirit in the new generation. "We made mistakes, but you will enter the land with pristine faith." It was not just a few who "made it," but 600,000 men over the age of twenty years old stood ready to enter the land. This was an achievement of unparalleled proportion.

This proves that the fathers understood how to atone for their own failing through their children. Indeed, the mere fact that an entire generation was considered worthy of entering the land on account of their ancestors' merit shows how great the merit of that first generation was. Thus, on the whole, the image of Klal Yisrael wandering through the wilderness, with all of their lapses, is still to be considered a worthy one.

This is a lesson that contemporary Judaism should learn. Yes, it might be late and even difficult for parents to alter their chosen lifestyle, but give your children a chance. Do not deprive them of their heritage! They deserve better than watered-down Judaism that, at best, represents nothing more than a cultural affiliation, not a religious bond. Indeed, what you do for your children might ultimately become your own eternal lifeline.

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

Yehoshua merited becoming Moshe Rabbeinu's successor - a designation that eluded the most astute and most brilliant of the nation's leadership. Apparently, Yehoshua possessed qualities which gave him precedence over the others. What about Yehoshua distinguished him so? Indeed, Moshe was great from day one. His birth illuminated the entire house. There is no question that, from the time of his entry into this world, Moshe was heads above everyone. The commentators do not seem to feel this way concerning Yehoshua. Indeed, some even feel that he was not worthy of the appellation, ben Torah. His relationship vis-?-vis his Rebbe, Moshe, is what made the difference and what catalyzed him into prominence. He never left his Rebbe's presence, standing there constantly, being at his beck and call. We do not find the Torah referring to Yehoshua as the talmid/student of Moshe; rather, the Torah gives him the title meshareis Moshe, servant/attendant of Moshe.

This, of course, does not preclude Yehoshua's scholarship. The Arizal writes that only two individuals achieved complete/perfect knowledge of the entire Torah - cover to cover - with every commentary and dialectic: Moshe and Yehoshua. This is why we find in the opening statement of Pirkei Avos, Moshe kibail, received, the Torah from Sinai and gave it to Yehoshua. Exactly as he received it - completely pristine, perfect; this is how he gave it to Yehoshua. Yehoshua, however, gave it to the collective Zekeinim, Elders, who were a considerable group. Not one of them alone was able to grasp what Yehoshua alone had received from Moshe.

When Moshe ascended Har Sinai, Yehoshua waited patiently for forty days and nights for his Rebbe's return. He was unaware that the nation had sinned with the Golden Calf. Despite all of Yehoshua's incredible credentials, Moshe still wanted his sons to be heirs to his mantle of leadership. Hashem did not concur. He preferred Yehoshua.

The Chasam Sofer applies this idea in his p'sak, ruling, that sons do not necessarily inherit their father's position. Clearly, Moshe understood the criteria for leadership of the nation. The fact that he still wanted his sons to have leadership positions is an indication that he felt them worthy of this distinction. Hashem felt otherwise. Apparently, as worthy as Moshe's sons might have been, Yehoshua was more acceptable. His consummate devotion to Torah, illuminated by the way in which he arranged the seats in the bais ha'medrash, made the difference. Erudition is important; brilliance means a lot, but there is much more to leadership. Yehoshua cared. He saw to it that when the students entered the bais hamedrash in the morning, it was warm and inviting; everything was in its proper place. At the end of the day, he cleaned up and arranged the seats in proper order. He did not just study or teach Torah - he lived it.

Much has been written concerning the Chasam Sofer's ruling. Indeed, there are those who feel that the Midrash implies that Hashem indicated that the sons of Moshe were not suited for the position. Otherwise, it would have gone to them m'toras yerusha, because of the laws of inheritance. In his Shevet HaLevi, Horav Shmuel HaLevi Wosner, Shlita, writes that, the Chasam Sofer's ruling notwithstanding, he contends that the appointment of Yehoshua to succeed Moshe is on an entirely different plane. The designation of Yehoshua was for a leadership position over the entire Klal Yisrael. Yehoshua was to teach the nation the Torah, as well as lead them into the Promised Land. Only Yehoshua had heard the entire Torah from Moshe. Thus, only Yehoshua could have become his successor.

Yehoshua became Klal Yisrael's leader because he earned this distinction. He was not born into it. This serves as a tremendous source of encouragement and hope to all of those waiting for that rare position. One who is worthy of a leadership position will eventually see his dream realized. Patience is not just a virtue; it is an intrinsic part of the process.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'ahavta es Hashem Elokecha.
And you shall love G-d, your G-d.

Ahavas Hashem, loving G-d, is a logical consequence of Hashem Echad, Hashem is One. As Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, explains, we infer the unity of the purpose of all of life from the Oneness of G-d. We prove our love of G-d, our worship of Him in thought and conviction, by mustering for this purpose every aspect of our lives, including our bodies and physical desires and all of the means at our disposal. Thus, whatever "portion" we receive in life, be it positive or less-than-positive, we must apply ourselves to accepting our allotment with love.

B'chol levavcha is written in the plural, which Chazal use to infer that one must serve Hashem b'shnei yitzrecham with both good and evil inclinations. The same One G-d Who has imbued us with a good inclination, with the capacity to respond to the beauty of all things good and noble, has also implanted within us a yetzer hora, including the capacity to be swayed by the allure of sin, baseness, and vulgarity. If evil were to hold no charms for us, if the thought of sin were to be so contrary to us that we would be repulsed by it, and the urge to do good would not involve self-denial and self-discipline, then, of course, we would do no evil; we would do only good. Hashem gave us the opportunity to overcome the evil inclination, and thereby warrant just reward for our good deeds. This is the meaning of loving G-d with all of our heart - with both inclinations. We do not ignore the evil; we are aware of it. We triumph over it.

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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