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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


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

In a number of places in Rabbinic literature, Chazal teach that Pinchas and Eliyahu HaNavi were one and the same. This is quite possibly because both earned the title of kanai, zealot. Their courage and decisive action under extreme pressure turned the tide in the nation's spiritual leadership. Thus, they glorified Hashem's Name at a time when it was being dragged through the muck. Horav Yaakov Galinsky, zl, quotes the Brisker Rav, zl, who points out another area in which their commonality is apparent.

Shortly before his death, Yannai Hamelech told his wife, "Do not be afraid of the Perushim [The term was used to describe those who adhered to the words of the rabbis and were meticulous in their Torah observance. They were opponents of the Tzedukim, who opposed Rabbinical law. Yannai was a scion of the Chashmonean dynasty, but he reneged his faith and became a Tzeduki]. Rather, fear only those who appear to be Perushim, but in reality are not pious. For their actions are like those of the wicked Zimri; yet, they seek the reward reserved for the righteous Pinchas."

The Brisker Rav explained that Zimri did not openly come out with a plan to undermine Moshe Rabbeinu's leadership. He came forward with a suggestion to save the Jewish People who were falling prey to the pagan god, Peor. The men would meet the Moavite women and were immediately captivated by their spell. Promises of moral turpitude were craftily ensconced in pagan worship. Bow down to my god, and you can then feel free to indulge yourself to your heart's content. The debauchery was a cover-up, a wily tactic to ensnare the men and compel them to worship the idol.

Zimri presented a compromise, a solution for their predicament. Rather than sneaking off to meet the pagan girls in their camp, let us welcome the harlots into our camp and, this way, the "worst" the men will do is act inappropriately. They will not worship the idol. Zimri was suggesting a compromise, in order to limit desecration of the Torah.

Pinchas replied zealously, "Who made you (Zimri) a baal, proprietor, over the Torah? Who granted you control to decide what to compromise, what to cut and paste in Jewish law? No room for compromise exists when the Torah says something is prohibited. Likewise, when King Achav worshipped idols, Eliyahu told the people: 'Make up your minds; you are either idol worshippers or Jews. You cannot be both!'"

This idea goes back to our Matriarch Rivkah, who felt strange rumblings within her womb. One moment the fetus gravitated towards the bais hamedrash, while the next moment it attempted to connect to the house of idol worship. She knew something was amiss. Could she be carrying a child that would be poseach al shtei ha'seifim, stand on both doorsteps, maintain dual allegiances? When she heard that she was actually carrying two children - one saintly and virtuous, the other evil and wicked - she was calmed. She could deal with someone who is an avowed apostate. She would always hope that he might realize the error of his ways and recant. One who is mixed up, however, who lives a life of compromise, a chameleon who is as comfortable in the church as he is in the shul, such a person has great difficulty seeing the truth. He sees nothing wrong with his lifestyle. Why would he want to change?

Our people have never feared the blatant apostate, the heretic who has disavowed the faith of his ancestors. People stay away from the dangerous wolf. It is when the wolf puts on sheep's clothing, when he presents Judaism as a religion which must compromise, break with some of the old traditions, dismantle a system that was established by the rabbis of old, talmidei chachamim, yarei Shomayim, G-d-fearing, uncompromising, Torah scholars, whose commitment to Hashem and His Torah was unequivocal - then we have a serious problem.

Yes, they act like Zimri, calling themselves Orthodox, expecting to be recognized as such, all the while impugning the very foundation of what Orthodoxy stands for. They embrace those whose moral fiber is in flagrant contempt of the Torah, whose activities comprise abomination at its nadir. These individuals have been shunned by the few people in our contemporary society who still adhere to faith-based morals and believe in an Almighty G-d who declared what is moral, what is proper, Who defined the composition of the family unit. They do this because they feel we must compromise. They act like Zimri and expect - no, demand - the reward reserved for Pinchas.

Horav Chaim Brisker, zl, offers a powerful analogy which goes to the crux of the spiritual aberration resulting from compromise. A Jew who was making every attempt to be observant in all areas of religious life was confronted with a problem. He possessed only one knife. This righteous, well-meaning, G-d-fearing Jew had an incomplete set of flatware, several spoons, and forks, but only one knife. What was he to do? A man must eat, and the food must be sliced. There are just so many varieties of food that one can eat whole; everything else must be sliced. He required a knife to smear the butter on his bread for breakfast and to slice his steak for dinner. He decided to use one side of the knife for meat and the other side of the knife for dairy. He was so proud of his incredibly innovative idea that he could not understand why more people were not doing the same. Why bother with two knives when one could do the trick? Obviously, he was unaware that a knife which was part dairy and part meat was completely treif, unkosher. Likewise, those who choose to make an admixture out of Orthodoxy, transforming it into an egalitarian, all embracing, do-what-suits you-religion, have only distorted the Torah's concept of religious observance. It is certainly neither Orthodox nor is it any of the liberal venues which serve as a medium for self-defined religious Jewish expression.

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

Kanaus, for the most part, is a frightening word. It refers either to someone who is a great tzaddik, whose love for Hashem is so intense that it impels him to act in a manner which some individuals consider extreme; or an extremist, who is always on the lookout for a good fight. There is a fine line which separates the two. This is why it is frightening. Some think that kanaus is a rite of passage, a segway for achieving gadlus baTorah, distinction in the field of Torah. They feel that, unless they have taken down a few misguided aspiring Torah scholars, they have not yet earned their rightful place of distinction in the world of Torah hierarchy. Most kanaim, zealots, are not much more than insecure rabble rousers who attempt to rise to the top by stepping on the backs the wretched souls who have the misfortune of falling into their mouths.

The first rule of successful kanaus is: one does not aspire to become a kanai. Out of his overwhelming love for Hashem, the kanai will respond to a situation that threatens the very underpinnings of our faith. The people had taanos, criticism, of Pinchas' act of zealotry - apparently, not because of what he did, but rather, because they felt his lineage was tainted, thus undermining his true objectivity in executing the act of kanaus. Who was he to slay a Prince of Yisrael? - one who was appointed by Hashem. The commentators say that Zimri was actually Shlumiel ben Tzurishadai, one of the original Nesiim. Hashem intervened and underscored that he heralded from Aharon HaKohen; he had an impeccable pedigree. This quieted them for the time being. Veritably, one cannot fully satisfy those who live for the objective of impugning others. There are those who do - and there are those who denigrate the doers. Pinchas acted because he felt that he had to carry out the halachah. He certainly knew that he would not garner any accolades based on his kanaus. When something is right/correct/proper, however, one must act and ignore those who find every excuse for not only not acting themselves, but also, for putting down those who have taken the initiative. When the nation faces religious crisis, when a moral outrage is publicly perpetrated and palpable Divine retribution is imminent, one does not hold back for fear of what "others" might say.

Yet, the question is pressing: Pinchas was certainly not the only virtuous man in Klal Yisrael. There were other leaders who saw what was occurring - yet refrained from entering into the fray. They probably felt like most of us: "Why do I need to get involved? Is it my problem? There is a Torah leadership who stand at the helm of the nation. They are guided by the Almighty. Am I the world's policeman? Is it my job to right every wrong?" If we can respect and, quite possibly, even sympathize with this passive approach, we must wonder what it was that compelled Pinchas to come forward and act the manner that he did. Surely he knew what people would say. They would impugn the integrity of his lineage. They would question his motives. They would look for every reason to malign him. Why did he do it? Was he greater than Moshe Rabbeinu from whom the halachah concerning one who cohabits with a gentile was, for some reason, concealed? The gadol hador, preeminent Torah leader of the generation, was standing there witnessing the entire debacle; yet, he was doing nothing. Was it Pinchas' place to step up to the plate at such a time?

The answer goes back to our first sentence: kanaus is frightening. The one who is a kanai must be spiritually, morally and emotionally pristine before he acts. The true kanai manifests all of these traits and more. He is dedicated to Hashem, to the Jewish People. He is not afraid of the repercussions. He steps up to the quintessential leader of Klal Yisrael and points out the halachah as he was taught. He is prepared to suffer the consequences which result from his actions. The true leader acquiesced, handing over to him the mantle of kanaus. - "Here; you are the messenger; you read the letter; you revealed the sin; you carry out the punishment."

Pinchas could have easily retracted. "Rebbe, I did my part by bringing to your attention the transgression that is taking place. I do not think it is my place to take action. This is a job for Jewish leadership. To take action is above my pay grade." Pinchas had every reason to desist, to return to the bais hamedrash, to open up his sefer and continue learning. He did not, because it was not the time for learning. It was the time for kanaus.

How do those who are not prepared to carry out the mitzvah, to act with kanaus, respond to the kanai? Do we thank him for stepping up to the plate while we refused even to go to bat? Well, we see how the nation acted, how they slandered Pinchas, in whose merit the plague that was decimating the nation ended. No one seemed to reach out to Pinchas to say, "Thank you," for being more man than I, for doing what I should have done, but - because of my spiritual deficiency - did not.

How do we place this entire scenario into perspective? How do we view Pinchas, the people, the event, from a rational, intellectual, comprehensive point of view? I recently came across what I think is an excellent presentation by Horav Yerachmiel Kromm, Shlita, who places a lucid - yet all-embracing - label on the kanai, one which shows him in a completely different - yet vital - light.

In the Avodah, Mussaf service of Yom Kippur, we recite the play by play process of the slaughtering and sprinkling of the blood of the Kohen Gadol's sin-offering and that of the people: "He would examine a knife and cut through most of the bulls' two tubes and, while someone else would complete the slaughter, he would receive the blood in a pure basin. He would give it immediately to his colleague to stir its blood, so that it should not congeal. He would place this blood in the custody of the one who would stir it." Included in the sublime Yom Kippur service, the service which is to effect atonement for the Jewish nation in order to grant them another year of continued good health and fortune, is what appears to be an almost mundane service. This is the function of the memareis, the Kohen whose role in the service was to keep the blood of the slaughtered bull from congealing. He did this by stirring the blood. In a sense, it is not much of a position, but it is critical to the day's atonement, for, if the blood congealed, it could not be sprinkled, and forgiveness could not be achieved.

This is the function of the kanai. He is the one who sees to it that the "mood" of the moment, the passion of the people for serving Hashem, remains in full force. Without the kanai, who "stirs the blood," complacency sets in, so that the passionate fervor for serving Hashem becomes chilled and forbidding. The excitement and enthusiasm is gone, replaced by apathy and detachment.

Every community requires a memareis - not necessarily a kanai, but a person who will maintain the mood, retain the passion, keep the embers of enthusiasm burning lest the disease of complacency sets in. Quietly and without fanfare, the community "stirrer" sees to it that our attitude toward Yiddishkeit does not become stilled. If the "blood" congeals - we can forget about atonement.

The position of memareis is a thankless one, often relegated to the Rav, Rosh Yeshivah, Torah leader who has the moral courage and spiritual stamina to withstand the criticism that is heaped on him often by his own people. There are well-meaning - but small - people with pinhead minds, who are frightened by their own shadows, for whom public opinion is of greater import than Heavenly approval. During one of his visits to Yerushalayim, the Satmar Rav, zl, was visited by Horav Amram Blau, zl, leader of the Neturei Karta in the Holy Land. Rav Blau was a fierce fighter for the sanctity of the Holy city, he viewed every secular infraction as an incursion against Judaism's jugular. He protested valiantly, often being physically pummeled by secular activists, whose venomous hatred of Torah and its adherents was unabashed. Rav Blau complained that, while he could live with the pain and abuse, he was troubled by the lack of support from his own Torah camp. The Satmar Rav replied, "Be happy that your own people do not castigate you for your public protestation." While not everyone has the fortitude to undertake upon himself the mantle of kanaus, the least others can do is not degrade nor prevent those who act sincerely to uphold the Torah's honor.

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

Obviously, it was "among them." Pinchas did not go into a backroom to negotiate a settlement between the sinners. He acted decisively within sight of the entire nation. Horav Yehudah Tzedakah, zl, explains that the Torah places emphasis on the b'socham, among them, to teach us that Pinchas did not fear repercussion. His sincerity and love were apparent as he placed Hashem and His Glory above his personal life and welfare. He epitomizes the true kanai, zealot. Indeed, in his commentary to Bereishis 18:26, "If I find fifty righteous (persons) within (b'soch) the city," Ibn Ezra writes, "Those who fear G-d publicly." Regrettably, there are many G-d-fearing, righteous, wonderful people who, despite their credible virtue, shy away from taking a public stand against spiritual aggression. They fear for their jobs, their standing in the community, their children - all spineless reasons for reneging one's responsibility.

The Ponevezer Rav, zl, was an individual who was loved by many and revered by all. He never shied away from assuming responsibility, from taking a stand, from telling it like it was. Like many cities in Europe prior to World War II, Ponevez was beset with Jewish secularists whose primary goal in life was to destroy the relationship which the observant Jew had with the Torah. Whenever the opportunity arose to denigrate Torah, defame the Orthodox community, slander Hashem and His adherents, they were there, fully committed to doing the damage. As citizens of Ponevez and proponents of the Haskalah, Jewish Enlightenment, they fought the Rav at every juncture, since he was usually the only one who had the courage to stand up to them.

The secularists were determined to provide the community with an evening of entertainment. They wanted the entertainment to reflect their own allegiance to the base society that prevailed in Europe. Nothing was too ribald. Debauchery and flagrant degradation of morality were what they felt would not only allow the people to have a pleasure-filled evening, but also ensure the breakdown of the hold that religion had on them.

That Shabbos, prior to Tefillas Mussaf, the Ponevezer Rav ascended to the lectern to deliver his drashah, lecture. Instead, he made the following appeal to their sensibilities. "My brethren! [He always prefaced his speeches with achai, my brethren]. Yehudim, Jews! We are descendants of Mordechai and Esther and not descendants of the foolish King Achashveirosh, who sought to display his Queen Vashti for all the land to gaze upon her beauty."

That was all he said. No more. He did not have to say more. The mispallelim, worshippers, knew to what he was referring. They understood his subtle message: "We are not fools. We are not animals. We are Jews, descendants of a noble and illustrious lineage. Why would we descend to the nadir of depravity, to act like the base goyim whose culture we should eschew?"

The cracks were appearing in the spiritual fiber of Lithuanian Jewry. Every city had its issues. Every community had its breaks with traditions, its secularists, its avowed apostates. Shabbos became the first korban, sacrifice, to the god of secularism. Once the sanctity of Shabbos was impugned, the rest of the mitzvos were sure to follow. The protective spiritual gate which watched over the Jew - Shabbos Kodesh - was breached. Now, anything goes; anything could worm its way into the community. One city was spared. In Ponevez, the kedushas Shabbos, the sanctity of the holiest day of the week, the day which Hashem ordained as His day of rest, was upheld. Why? The Ponevezer Rav - of course.

The Rav spoke from the podium, addressing the overwhelming significance of Shabbos observance. There was no room for excuses. Shabbos was Shabbos. There was no wiggle room in its observance. One either observed every aspect of Shabbos, or he was a mechallel Shabbos, desecrator of Shabbos. There was no allowance for negotiation of any kind. Noted for his oratory skills, the Rav spoke sharply, passionately, with abounding love - but emphatically stating that he would not condone any chillul Shabbos.

The people listened - well, most of them: "Rebbe, I have no recourse but to end Shabbos prematurely. I cannot wait until after sundown," the town's baker declared, "or I will lose my livelihood." People had been talking about his entering his bakery an hour before the end of Shabbos to fire up the ovens and prepare the dough. Bread was a staple; it was his source of income. "Rebbe, what should I do?" the baker cried out.

The Rav looked at the man and countered, "What do you want from me? Is Shabbos my personal possession that I can forego part of it? Shabbos belongs to Hashem. It is concerning Shabbos that Hashem writes in the Torah, Mechalilehah mos yumas, "Those who desecrate it will surely die.'" The Rav was not holding back. These people had to hear him tell it like it was - without embellishment or compromise.

Nonetheless, there were those who had the chutzpah, audacity, to desecrate Shabbos, continuing to work on Friday night as if Shabbos did not exist. Concerning them, the Rav acted with diplomacy. He neither reproved them, nor did he deride them publicly from the podium; he did not go out against them to protest their flagrant desecration of Shabbos. He believed in silent protest. Every Friday night, on his way to shul, he would stop by the barbershop which remained open, stick his head into the store, and, with his huge signature smile say, "A gutten Shabbos!" He immediately continued on to shul.

This subtle form of protest went on week after week. The Rav did not tire. Regrettably, the barber kept up his desecration of Shabbos. The man was a barber, and Shabbos was a busy day. Finally, one Friday night, when the Rav made his rounds, the barber came over to him and said, "Rebbe, I cannot continue like this. You are causing me to renege on my Judaism and apostatize myself!"

The Ponevezer Rav was not fazed by this remark. He replied, "Do not worry. Do not concern yourself. If you must - you must. In fact, I will give you the necessary funds to pay the priest for your baptism! One thing is for certain: No Jew in this city will keep his store open on Shabbos!"

Sadly, even this latest admonishment did not succeed in bringing the barber to his knees. He refused to close his doors on Shabbos. It was nothing personal. He just had to earn a living, and people were willing to take haircuts on Shabbos. The Rav tried another tactic, one which he hoped he would not have to employ, but it was crunch time: Shabbos was being desecrated in his city. He could not stand idly by and allow this tragedy to continue unabated.

One Friday night, the worshippers in the city's main shul noticed that the Rav was late in arriving. This was unusual, since the Rav was always one of the first men in the shul. After a half hour went by, the people began to worry. Something must have happened. The Rav was never late. After an hour had elapsed, the members dispatched one of the yeshivah students to search for the Rav. After combing the town, the student discovered the Rav sitting in the Jewish-owned barbershop. He was certainly not taking a haircut. He just sat there learning from a sefer. Apparently, after weeks of trying to get the barber to close his business for Shabbos, the Rav had come up with a new idea - one that was working. Anyone who entered the barbershop and noticed the Rav sitting there immediately found reason to leave. It was one thing to be mechallel Shabbos; it was totally another to do so in the presence of the Ponevezer Rav. Finally, after the barber literally threw in the towel and promised to no longer remain open on Shabbos, the Rav left the establishment and went to shul. Now, he could daven with a restful mind. This is the meaning of quiet protest - kanaus, with diplomacy. It may not work with everyone - nor does it work for everyone, but it does work. Perhaps it should be the first response to a spiritual incursion.

V'limadetem osam es bneichem. Teach them to your children.

Limud means to be accustomed to something. This is opposed to shinun (V'sheenantam), which means to achieve proficiency. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, explains that the mitzvah of v'limadetem entails not only knowing the halachah - which goes under the heading of shinun - but also, underscores the concept of learning Torah lishmah, solely for the sake of learning Torah. Additionally, this mitzvah applies only to men and not women. A woman who has studied Torah, knows the halachos - and never forgets them - is not required to review them. Men, however, are obligated in the mitzvah of learning for the sake of learning, thus requiring them to constantly review Torah. As Rav Schwab observes, learning Torah for a man is a form of worshipping Hashem. Even if one has a photographic memory and never forgets an iota of Torah - he must review; he must also study Torah. He cites the weekly Friday night repetition of the Mishnayos Bameh madlikin in Meseches Shabbos, as a case in point. Even if one knows these Mishnayos by heart, it is still a mitzvah to repeat them.

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