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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Pinchas

He was jealous for My sake among them. (25:11)

Pinchas' act of zealousness was pure, motivated by his desire to avenge the desecration of Hashem's Name. He executed his deed, unaware of the identity of his victims or who witnessed his zealous act. He focused only on one thing - to put an end to the public humiliation of Hashem and His leadership. What gave Pinchas the courage to act in this manner? While his intentions were certainly noble, only a uniquely inspired person can achieve what Pinchas did. What is the source of that inspiration?

In a departure from the usual interpretation of the word, "b'socham," "among them," the Chasam Sofer says that this word refers to the sinners. In fact, the sinners, manifesting their enthusiasm and devotion to evil, are the ones who inspired Pinchas. He cites the Chovas Halevovos who relates an incident concerning an individual who was chozer b'teshuvah, repented and returned to faithful observance of mitzvos. Reflecting upon the extreme devotion, passion and excitement that the sinner invests in his iniquity, he said, "Imagine if one would give so much of himself in the pursuit of mitzvos." Pinchas asked himself the same question. Zimri's transgression evoked within Pinchas that same urging to express his jealousy for Hashem. He acted for Hashem with an enthusiasm parallel to that which he saw "b'socham," among the sinners.

We all have within us a reservoir of potential which we call upon when it serves us best. How often does the one who has "difficulty" studying Torah graduate summa cum laude? Another example is the one who finds it impossible to come to minyan in the morning, but can manage to be present bright and early for a business meeting. One establishes his priorities. We have to remember, however, that Hashem also has set His priorities. We want to strive to be one of them.

And it shall be for him and his offspring after him a covenant of eternal Priesthood. (25:13)

In the Talmud Zevachim 101a, Chazal tell us that Pinchas did not become a Kohen, member of the Priesthood, until he killed Zimri. Hashem gave the Kehunah only to Aharon and his sons, who were anointed at the same time. The offspring to be born to these sons after the anointing would be Kohanim. Pinchas, who was neither anointed nor born afterwards, was therefore not included in the Kehunah. This Chazal raises a number of questions. First, why was Pinchas not anointed? Second, when Pinchas became a Kohen, his kedushah - sanctity - was unique. It was not kedushas Aharon; it was kedushas Pinchas. How could Pinchas' descendants make the blessing, "Who sanctified us in the sanctity of Aharon" when they performed priestly functions if, in fact, they were not included within the framework of kedushas Aharon?

Aharon intrinsically possessed a unique attribute: "He loved peace and pursued peace, loved people and sought to bring them closer to Torah." This enviable attribute, claims Horav Shimon Schwab,zl, may have been the reason that Aharon did not act zealously and aggressively to stand up to the rebels that created the Golden Calf. His nephew, Chur, challenged them and died sanctifying Hashem's Name. Aharon attempted to find a conciliatory solution to the rebels' demand for a new leader. He did not take the easy way out; he was simply concerned for the people's welfare.

This overriding concern was the precursor of the Golden Calf. Consequently, when Aharon was inducted into the Priesthood, a cloud was hanging over the family. The Kehunah was blemished; only Aharon and his immediate family would be anointed. Although Aharon and his sons had been anointed, kedushas haKehunah did not expand outward to his grandsons who had not been anointed. Pinchas was, therefore, not a Kohen until he committed his selfless act of zealousness. He took it upon himself to move against Zimri, displaying unprecedented strength and courage. Thus, he eliminated the existing taint on kedushas Aharon. Only now would the kedushah that was originally Aharon's extend to all Kohanim.

May Hashem... appoint a man over the assembly. Who shall go out before them and come in before them who shall take them out and who shall bring them in. (27:16,17)

The Jewish leader must possess the following two qualities: He must be strong, ready to lead his people into battle -- not cowering in the rear lines. He must also take a stand on Jewish issues, even if his position is not a popular one. When he sees the people veering from daas Torah, the perspective of Torah for our lives, then he must protest vehemently. He must do everything within his power to prevent their deviation. He must go "lifneihem," before them, he must lead - not be led. He must do what is right, even if the people do not approve of his actions.

In the Talmud Moed Katan 25b, Chazal tell us that when Rabbi Yaakov passed away, the stars which are usually seen only at night were manifest during the day. Horav Mordechai Rogov, zl, explains that this was a sign from Heaven that Rabbi Yaakov was not an ordinary leader. He was so strong in his conviction and hashkafah, philosophy, that even if everybody felt that things were fine - that literally the sun was shining for our people, that peace reigned - his perspective would pierce through the bogus peace to expose the fraud that prevailed. When he saw the darkness, he cried out, "It is night! The light you see is not the light of the sun, but of the stars! We are about to fall into an abyss of darkness." Hashem rewarded such staunch leadership with His approval. He brought out the stars during the day to demonstrate that Rabbi Yaakov was correct in his opinion. Only a true gadol, great man, presents the statements issued by various leaders -- even scholars, founders of movements -- in their clear perspective. Taking a stand entails courage, especially when it is against well-meaning people who simply are not erudite in Torah law and philosophy. This is a critical aspect of Torah leadership.

There is a second trait that a gadol must exhibit. At times, he must "take them out and bring them in." He must stand together with the people. He must give them courage and succor to go on, to triumph over pain and adversity, to withstand challenge, and to succeed under difficult circumstances, While many leaders possess both of these qualities, some have a difficult time discerning when to exercise strength and aggressiveness and when to be flexible and supportive.

Chazal tell us that when Avraham Avinu died, all of the world leaders stood in a row as mourners to lament his passing. They said, "Woe is the world that has lost its leader. Woe is the ship that has lost its captain." What is the implication of these two analogies? Horav Rogov explains that there are two types of leaders: one leads on land; the other leads in the water. Land and water are analogies for two divergent situations. Land symbolizes stability, normalcy and peace. Water - with its waves - implies stormy circumstances, strife, challenge, situations that challenge the capabilities of the leader. Some leaders are great in times of peace, when everything seems to go smoothly, when all factions of the community seem to get along, when everyone sublimates himself to Torah directive as expounded by the gedolei ha'dor. If things were to change, if a crisis were to appear, this leader would probably disappear.

The alternative type of leader seems to thrive on crisis. He is able to stand tall. He leads his flock during crucial periods, when the correct decision means survival and ambiguity can instantaneously transform into serious dilemma. This leader is great under pressure, decisive in the face of challenge, but uninspirational when stability and peace are the standard. He just has nothing to do. He is a problem person; he actually thrives on solving problems. A real leader governs under all circumstances. He is a man for all seasons and all situations. Avraham Avinu personified this trait. His passing was felt by everyone. The man who was related to all people under all conditions was gone. Moshe Rabbeinu followed in the Patriarch's footsteps. He now sought a leader that embodied both qualities.

And one male of the goats for a sin-offering to Hashem. (28:15)

It is interesting to note that the word chatas, sin-offering, is followed by, "l'Hashem," to Hashem, a term which is not used anywhere else in the Torah. The he-goats of the Korban Mussaf were brought to atone for sins involving tumah, ritual contamination. When an individual was tamei he either entered the Bais Hamikdash or ate kodoshim, sacrificial meat to offer his sacrifice. Rashi explains that the addition of the word "l'Hashem" indicates the extent of error on the part of the tamei person. He was unaware either before or afterwards that he was tamei. Only Hashem knew of the contamination.

The Talmud in Chullin 60 asks this question and gives an answer based upon the following narrative. Chazal cite the pasuk in Parashas Bereishis 1:16, "And Hashem made two great lights: the great light to rule the day, and the small light to rule the night." This pasuk presents us with an apparent contradiction. The beginning of the pasuk implies that there were two great lights, while the second-half of the pasuk tells us that there was a great light and a small light! What happened? Chazal explain that originally there had been two great lights, the sun and the moon, both of equal size and brilliance. The moon, however, was not satisfied to have "two equal kings reigning under one crown;" one of them had to be diminished. Hashem responded to the moon, "Very well, make yourself small." This idea did not satisfy the moon. After all, why should he be diminished in size just because he had a good idea?" Hashem then offered to compensate the moon for being diminished by ensuring her presence at all times of the day. The sun, however, shines only during daytime. The moon still complained that she did not gain anything by shining during the day, since nobody would notice her light. Hashem finally consoled the moon that the description of the sin-offering, the phrase, l'Hashem, "a sin-offering to Hashem," would be incorporated only for the Korban Mussaf offered on Rosh Chodesh. This seemed to satisfy the moon.

The Daas Zekeinim M'Baalei HaTosfos cites the Talmud in Yoma 23a where Chazal say that one should be from the "neelavim v'einom olvim, shomim cherpasam v'einam meishivim," someone who is insulted, but does not retaliate, who hears themselves humiliated and does not respond. Concerning such an individual, the Navi says (Shoftim 5), "But they that love Him, are as the sun when he goes forth in his might." Chazal are telling us that one who holds back from responding to others who denigrate him is like the sun. Why? What did the sun do that it has become the paradigm for the humiliated?

The Daas Zekeinim makes a novel connection between these two statements of Chazal. What was the sun doing during the time that the moon was complaining about her size? Chazal do not record the sun's response to the moon's critique. Indeed, there was none! The sun remained quiet, it did not respond, despite the fact that (by asking for one of the two lights to be diminished) the moon was -- by inference -- saying, "Diminish the sun, for I am greater than he!" The sun was humiliated, but did not respond - a deed for which it merited the retention of its original size. The sun remained large, because it did not belittle itself by responding to the moon's complaints. It did not defer to the natural proclivity we all have, to retaliate at anyone who degrades us. No, the sun ignored the moon. Thus, it continued to shine.

This thesis is not meant to assert that one should lay down and become the world's doormat, permitting everyone to literally step on him. We are just saying that the Torah is instructing us not to react to other people's insults. A Torah- Jew is secure in his beliefs, assured and self-confident. He does not lower himself to respond to those who taunt, denigrate and humiliate him. His standards and values are unwaverable. Trading insults dignifies the offender and is self-demeaning. If one wants to shine like the sun, he must act like the sun.

This is all true as long as the offender is not disparaging the Torah's honor. When kavod haTorah is involved, when the Torah is denigrated or its disseminators ridiculed, the ben Torah should respond - with dignity. He should respond with an augustness and bearing that bespeaks one who studies Torah. He must, however, respond! We cannot permit the community to disparage gedolei Yisrael simply because they are and protecting Klal Yisrael from usurpers who would undermine halachah. If a gadol hador suddenly expresses intolerance for the Torah's humiliation, if he refuses those who "perform the deed of Zimri and demand the reward of Pinchas" to become the spokesmen for Orthodoxy, he is perceived as a rabble rouser. The time occurs when one must take the initiative and act as Pinchas did. One who refuses to discern between the reactionary and the true zealot, or between the pacifist and the apologist, has no right to condemn others who are fulfilling their role as Torah Jews.

And let the assembly of Hashem not be like sheep that have no shepherd. (27:17)

Moshe pleads with Hashem to name his successor who would lead Bnei Yisrael. In closing, he entreats Hashem not to permit Bnei Yisrael to be left without leadership. One would think that in the desert the Jewish People were bereft of competent leadership. True, Moshe would be gone, but he left behind him those who learned leadership skills directly from him: Yehoshua, his student par excellence; Pinchas, the zealot who had the courage to stand up to a nasi who had publicly desecrated Hashem's Name; Elazar, the son of Aharon HaKohen, the Kohen Gadol who was the paradigm of sanctity; the Zekeinim, Elders, who stood at the helm of the nation, who completed Moshe's inner circle of leadership. Can we really assert that Bnei Yisrael would be left as sheep without a shepherd?

Horav Elchanan Wasserman,zl, takes a practical approach, maintaining that a team of leaders, a committee, is not equivalent to solo leadership. A single leader who embodies the critical leadership qualities will be more successful than a group of leaders who probably will spend more time laying claim to their own territory than working for the community. One person must make the decision; he can -- and should -- delegate authority to others to execute various duties. He should even encourage decision making on the part of others. He should always remember, however, that the ultimate responsibility lies with him. It is his responsibility to accept - not to use as a vehicle for projecting blame onto others. He must be the "ish al ha'eidah," the (one) man over the assembly, the focal point of the entire congregation, earning the esteem and love of his followers.


  1. Why does the Torah render a detailed history of Pinchas' pedigree?
  2. Who was the most distinguished of the five kings of Midyan?
  3. When was Yocheved bas Levi born?
  4. Were all of Tzlafchad's daughters equally important?
  5. When did the dialogue with Bnos Tzlafchad take place?
  6. Moshe's face shone like the _____ whereas Yehoshua's face shone like the_____.


  1. The people accused Pinchas of wanton murder, claiming that he was the grandson of Putiel. Putiel was Yisro, who at one time had "fattened calves for the worship of idols." In response, Hashem noted that Pinchas was a descendant of Aharon, who was distinguished as one who loved and pursued peace.
  2. Tzur
  3. As Yaakov and his family were entering the gates of Egypt.
  4. Yes.
  5. During the fortieth year after the Egyptian exodus, after Aharon Hakohen had died.
  6. a. Sun b.Moon

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