Parashat Pinhas

Dedicated Leilui Nishmat our Grandparents Fred and Florence Erani A’h by

Freddie Moyal and Family

Parashat Pinhas

The story of Pinhas begins at the end of last week’s parasha. In that parasha, Balak realized that B’nei Yisrael could not be cursed, not even by the great prophet Bilaam.

Bilaam’s Plot

Chazal tell us that Bilaam advised Balak to work on a different plan. Bilaam knew that sexual morality is the foundation of B’nei Yisrael’s holiness, and that Hashem does not tolerate immorality. So Bilaam and Balak decided to entice the Israelite men to fall into immorality.

According to Chazal, the Midianite women invited the Jewish men into their tents to purchase merchandise. They gave the men food and drinks until they were filled with desire for the women. The women then produced their Baal-Peor idols and told the men that before they could have them, they had to worship the idols in degrading ways.

Zimri’s Mistake

Zimri, the leader of the tribe of Shimon, saw what was happening and how these men were falling into avoda zara. He decided that it was preferable to take the girls, as that would be a lesser sin than idolatry.

Zimri’s intentions might have been noble, but we know two wrongs don’t make a right! We don’t violate the Torah, and we don’t bring the bar down on our religion even if we think we’re protecting the Torah. For example, the Reform Movement allows Jews to drive on Shabbat in order to go to shul. This encourages them to go to shul (which is a Rabbinic law) but goes directly against a Torah law.

Pinhas Takes Action

Last week’s parasha ends with the words, “When Pinhas son of Elazar, son of Aharon the kohen, saw it [that Zimri had brought a Midianite woman into his family while they were weeping at the entrance of the test of meeting], he got up and left the congregation. Taking a spear in his hand, he went after the Israelite man [Zimri] into the tent, and pierced the two of them, the Israelite and the woman, through the stomach. So the plague was stopped among the people of Israel. Nevertheless those that died by the plague were twenty-four thousand.”

Now this week’s parasha — which is named after Pinhas — begins as follows: “Pinhas son of Elazar son of Aharon the kohen turned back the wrath of Hashem from upon B’nei Yisrael, when he zealously avenged Hashem’s vengeance among them, so Hashem did not consume B’nei Yisrael in His vengeance.”

Pinhas was a kanai, which means that he was zealous to protect the honor of Hashem! Our Rabbis tell us that before Pinhas killed Zimri, he remembered the halacha and said to Moshe, “I received from you the teaching of one having relations with a gentile woman is to be executed by the zealot.” Moshe replied to Pinhas, “Let the one who reads the correspondence serve as its executor.” Pinhas then took the spear in his hand and immediately killed both Zimri and the Midianite woman, Kozbi, with one spear.

According to the Torah, Pinhas acted leshem shamayim (for the sake of Heaven), but that’s a very difficult level to achieve. Rabbi Diamond teaches us that there is no one living in our time that can say they acted one hundred percent leshem shamayim. As great as a person can be today, we can never reach the level of Pinhas. There will always be some part of us that will be acting for our own kavod (honor), and that is not considered to be completely leshem shamayim. We must always keep that in mind when we think we’re being zealous.

The reason for the split between Pinhas’ act in last week’s Parashat Balak, and the praise given to him in this week’s parasha is because we have to wait and analyze if this act was truly leshem shamayim.

Truth and Peace

In passuk 12 the Torah states, “hineni noten lo et beriti shalom — I am giving him [Pinhas] My covenant of peace.” In that passuk, the vav in the word shalomis split. The halacha stresses that letters in the Torah must be written in one complete stroke, and if they are faded or if any part is missing, the work is invalid. But in this one passuk, in the word shalom, the vav must be written with a break in the line.

Rabbi Frand says regarding this split vav that Pinhas did not look to compromise with Zimri and Kozbi in the name of peace. Pinhas knew that there’s a point at which a person must draw the line and say, “Here and no further! “

Now we can understand why the vav in the word shalom is split: of course shalom is important, but there are two kinds of shalom. The letter vav can sometimes be a vav of inclusion (as in the English word “and”), but sometimes the vav can be used for distinction, a vav of division. When pursuing the cause of shalom, a person must remember that there are two “vavs.” Sometimes the “vav hahibur,” of inclusion, is appropriate, and he should say, “Yes, it is worthwhile to compromise.” At other times the “vav of hiluk,” or separation, is appropriate.

Rav Shlomo Breuer has a beautiful insight. He quotes the verse “Truth and Peace you shall love.” (Zechariah 8:19). We must love peace. However, there is something that comes before Peace…and that is Truth. As much as we emphasize the importance of shalom (peace), in the final analysis, shalom is important up to a certain point — and that is the point of emmet (truth). A person should not make shalom if making shalom is going to compromise the emmet, by causing him to throw out principles and values that he knows to be emmet.

The Mishna states, “G-d did not find any vessel to hold blessing, other than the vessel of peace.” (Uktzin 3:12). Shalom is the receptacle; it is the vessel that holds everything. But a person sometimes must look and ask himself, “What will I be left holding?” If I compromise everything in the name of shalom, then what is this vessel of shalom left holding? It is holding nothing. Yes, peace, but remember the sequence of the verse: Truth and [then] Peace you shall love.

If we look back at Parashat Bereshit, where Hashem created the world, now we can understand it better. There was a separation between “the waters above and the waters below,” as well as a separation between “light and darkness.” In the first case, there was no real difference between the waters above and the waters below. The division was merely for the sake of division. While the division was necessary for the welfare of the world, inherently it had no purpose. Therefore, the verse does not say “ki tov — it was good.” However, separation between the light and the darkness — between something that represents good and something that represents bad, between something that is right and something that is wrong — that is a division about which we can indeed say “ki tov.”

Pinhas’s Reward

Because Pinhas defended Hashem’s honor by killing Zimri and the Midianite princess, he was granted a covenant of shalom! Sforno explains that because of what Pinhas did leshem shamayim, he lived a very long life, and after 400 years his neshamah went into Eliyahu Hanavi who is everlasting until today!

Sforno goes on to explain that, “All deterioration that happens to the body is because of conflict of the opposites.” In other words, all disease and weakening with age only occurs because of internal conflicts! So if we can find a way to live in peace with ourselves, and eliminate our internal strife and daily worries and stresses by realizing that everything we have is from Hashem, we too will live longer. We must know that our talents, our parnassah, our health, our family, and all that we have, is from Hashem. Our job is to just realize that Hashem is in control, and then we will be on our way to know that there’s nothing for us to worry about!

The Sensitivity of Our Gedolim

Rabbi Ephraim Shapiro told a story about a holocaust survivor who lived in Borough Park. He walked the streets aimlessly and alone. Rav Aharon Kotler would take time out of his extremely busy schedule to give the man hizuk weekly. One day, the Rav told the man that when he remarries he will have a daughter, and the Rav will dance at this man’s daughter’s wedding. The man was doubtful but he went on his way. Just as the Rav said, the man later remarried and had a daughter. When she was about 10 years old, Rav Aharon Kotler sadly passed away. The man was devastated by the Rabbi’s passing.

Years later, the daughter got married. The dancing had just begun, and in walks Rav Shneur Kotler, the late Rav Kotler’s son. He danced and danced with the father of the bride, and brought tremendous joy to the kallah. The father took the Rabbi aside and asked, “We are so honored to have the Rav but what brought Rav Shneur here?” The Rabbi answered, “10 years ago before my father passed away, he called me into his room and told me, ‘There’s a man in Borough Park who I told I would dance at his daughters wedding but I will not be able to. Take his name and address, and follow the girl’s life. When you hear that she is a bride, go to the wedding and dance in my place.’”

It is well known that when Rav Aharon was passing away, he had a meeting with Rav Shneur about the entire future of B’nei Yisrael. But first on his list was this promise he made to dance at a little girl’s wedding.

May we all learn the difference between “good shalom,” circumstances under which it is appropriate to compromise for the sake of peace, and “bad shalom,” where in order to make peace we give up on truth and forgo important principles. May we always stand up for the truth of Torah and be able to analyze and discern if what we’re doing is truly leshem shamayim. May we also know that Hashem runs the world and if we do, there won’t be any baseless hatred among the Jewish people, which is what led to the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash that we’re still mourning for until this very day. May we also learn how to be with our fellow Jews from the tremendous sensitivity shown by Rav Aharon Kotler in the story at the end

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey

Discussion Points:

· Do we ever push aside important principles in order to “keep things friendly” and “make things flow smoothly?”

· Are we careful enough that when we take a stand on important issues we are motivated by doing what Hashem wants, not by our own ego?

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