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Rabbi Wagensberg on Parshas Pinchas 2018

"Chiefs or Indians"

This week's parsha contains the explosive story of Pinchas (Moshe's great-nephew), who sees an act of immorality being committed between Zimri, the prince of the tribe of Shimon, and Kozbi, a Midianite princess. Pinchas takes swift action at eliminating these two people, which subsequently stops the plague God has sent as punishment, saving countless Jewish lives (Parshas Pinchas, 25:10-15).

The Talmud (Sanhedrin, chap. 9, "Hanisrafin", pg. 82a) examines the picture of what occurred before Zimri united with Kuzbi in full public view. Zimri challenged Moshe: "Son of Amram! Is this Midianite woman prohibited or permitted to me? If you say she is prohibited, who permitted you to marry your Midianite wife, Tzipporah?"

(Moshe married Tzipporah prior to the giving of the Torah, at which time there was no prohibition against marrying Midianite women, whereas Zimri's act was performed after the giving of the Torah, when the prohibition was in full effect. Furthermore, Moshe had converted Tzipporah to pre-Torah "Judaism," whereas Zimri had no such intentions. However, these issues were of no concern to Zimri; sometimes, people just aren't interested in answers.)

According to the Talmud, at the moment that Zimri presented his challenge, Moshe forgot the law he had received from God at Sinai: namely, that a zealot must take action to eliminate the Jewish perpetrator of such an immoral act. Moshe's momentary forgetfulness caused an outbreak of weeping among the entire nation (Parshas Balak, 25:6).

This story presents several difficulties. First, why did Moshe's forgetting a law elicit so many tears? There are far greater tragedies to cry over! Furthermore, the situation was not irreversible; it would simply take a moment for Moshe to ask Hashem what the law was!

Another puzzling issue regards the Talmud's comment (Sanhedrin 82a) that it was Pinchas who reminded Moshe of the forgotten law - and that, even once Moshe had been reminded, it was Pinchas, not Moshe, who carried out Zimri's punishment. This seems strange. Once Moshe's memory had been refreshed, he himself should have carried out the command!

This is so for two reasons. First, it is always better to perform a mitzvah oneself than to appoint someone else to do it (Kiddushin, chap. 2, "Ha-ish Mikadesh", pg. 41a, Rav Yosef). Second, Pinchas came from less-than-ideal lineage, and his action could have been criticized: How could a "descendant of idolaters" have the audacity to eliminate a prince of Israel? (See Sanhedrin, 82b). Whereas if Moshe had been the one to eliminate Zimri, no one would have dared to comment.

"Praying for the Sick"

A useful insight can be gleaned from the Talmud (Baba Basra, chap. 8, "Yesh Nochalin", pg. 116a; Rav Pinchas bar Chama), which states that anyone with an ill family member should go to a tzaddik so that the tzaddik can pray on the ill person's behalf. This is a troubling comment. Why do we need holy people to pray for us? Can't we pray on our own?

The Me'iri (Rabbi Menachem ben Shlomo Me'iri, 1249-1310, France; in Beis HaBechira) explains that we are instructed to go to a righteous person in order to observe how the righteous person prays. Watching the righteous person will then teach us how to pray on our own. From here, Rabbi Zev Leff, Shlit"a, points out that the role of a leader is to teach people how to function on their own. A leader is not intended to act instead of the people; rather, a master teacher should produce other leaders, not just followers.

This idea will enable us to resolve the two difficulties we raised before. The people did not cry because Moshe forgot the law; rather, they cried because Moshe's forgetfulness caused them to recognize their own lack of initiative. The whole nation was aware of Moshe's imminent death, and they became terrified about their fate. Who would be the next one to lead the people? Would they be helpless once Moshe was gone? For a few moments, everyone stood around staring at each other, not knowing what to do. This scenario was certainly something to cry about, because Moshe would have failed as a leader had he not produced people who could lead in his absence.

This idea also helps us understand why Pinchas had to be the one to take action, not Moshe. Even after Moshe was reminded of the law, he intentionally restrained himself from acting. He did this to see if he had been successful as a leader - i.e. if he had succeeded in producing others who knew how to lead.

One of the hallmarks of a leader is to be truthful and honest. We find that this was one of the qualities that Pinchas possessed.

"Honesty is Still the Best Policy"

On a non-leap year, Parshas Pinchas is always read on the first Shabbos (Sabbath) of the "Bein Hametzarim" (Lit. "In dire straits" (Lam. 1:3), a reference to the three-week period, commencing from the 17th of Tammuz until the 9th day of Av, during which we mourn the destruction of our Batei Mikdash (Temples) and subsequent exiles.

The weekly Torah portions are not arbitrarily dispersed throughout the year. Rather, they were intentionally arranged, by Ezra Hasofer (the scribe) to be read on the dates of the Jewish calendar that they appear (Breisa Meggilah, chap. 4, "B'nei Ha-ir", pg. 31b, Rebbi Shimon ben Elazar, Abaye, Reish Lakish).

As such, what is the connection between parshas Pinchas and the Bein Hametzarim?

The Shvilei Pinchas addresses this by pointing to the sources which state that Pinchas later became Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet; Yalkut Shimoni Pinchas, remez 771). God made a covenant of peace with Pinchas because Pinchas restored peace between God and His people.

When the Jews sinned with immorality, God's anger (so to speak) was kindled and a plague broke out claiming thousands of lives. After asking Moshe, Pinchas acted and eliminated Zimri (the leader of Shimon) and Kozbi (the Midianite princess) who were involved in an illicit relationship.

Hashem's anger (as it were) abated and the plague stopped, restoring peace between God and His people. Therefore, Hashem forged a covenant of peace with Pinchas, promising to turn him into an angel who will live forever, and restore peace once again between God and His people by bringing the news about the redemption at the End of Days (Yonasan ben Uziel, Nu. 25:12).

Therefore, we read about Pinchas at the beginning of the Three Weeks because, as we increase our mourning over the destruction of our Temples and exiles, we want to mention how Pinchas saved the Jewish people, thereby awakening Divine compassion, so that God will fulfill His promise to Pinchas by sending him to announce the Final Redemption.

In other words, reading about Pinchas/Eliyahu during the days in which our mourning intensifies, it gives us strength and hope that the redemption is going to happen.

Eliyahu will bring that redemption about by teaching us about Teshuvah (repentance; Malachi, 3:23-24, Rashi). After all, it is due to Teshuvah that the Geula (redemption) will come (Yoma chap. 8, "Yom Hakipurim", pg. 86b, Rebbi Yonasan).

The Mishnah in Edyos (chap. 8, "Heyid Rebbi Yehoshuah ben Beseirah", Mishnah 7) says that Rebbi Yehoshuah received a tradition from Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai who heard from his Rebbi (Hillel, see Succah chap. 2, "Hayashan Tachas Hamitah", pg. 28a), who heard from his Rebbi (Shmayah and Avtalyon (Avos 1:12-13), who received a tradition tracing itself all the way back to Moshe at Mount Sinai which says that Eliyahu will only come to, "Distance that which is close, and to bring close that which is distant."

The Bas Ayin (parshas Terumah, citing the Degel Machaneh Ephraim) explains these cryptic words based on a Gemarah (Shabbos, chap. 12, "Haboneh", pg. 104a) which asks, "Why are the letters that spell "sheker" (lie, falsity) close to each other in the Hebrew alphabet (those letters are kuf, reish, and shin) and why are the letters that spell "emes" (truth) far apart from each other in the Hebrew alphabet (with the aleph at the beginning, the mem in the middle, and the suf at the end of the Aleph Beis)?"

The Gemarah answers this question by saying that this teaches us that sheker is common, with one sheker close to another, whereas emes is uncommon, with one emes distant from another.

Now we can go back to the Mishnah. When it said that Eliyahu will come to "Distance that which is close," it means that he will distance the close letters of sheker, meaning, he will make sheker less common.

When the Mishnah said that Eliyahu will come to "Bring close that which is distant," it means that he will bring the distant letters of emes together, meaning, he will make emes more common.

In other words, Eliyahu's mission will be to remove sheker from the world, and instead, bring emes into the world.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds that it was specifically Eliyahu who was singled out for this job because this is precisely what he did in our parsha. When Zimri took Kozbi, he claimed that he had to be with her to bring forth the Davidic spark that was hidden within the nation of Midyan.

When Pinchas acted, he uncovered Zimri's lie. Davidic sparks of sovereignty were only found within the nations of Moav and Amon (Baba Kama, chap. 4, "Shor Shenagach Dalet V'hey", pg. 38b), not in Midyan. Zimri made a false claim to justify his lustful passions.

Pinchas began his career by calling a spade a spade. He removed falsity and revealed truth. God promised that this would continue to be his mission as Eliyahu.

The Talmud (Shabbos, chap. 5, "Bameh B'heimah", pg. 55a, Rebbi Chanina) says that Hashem's seal is emes. This is because God is eternal. Therefore, God's seal must be eternal as well. How can we determine if something is eternal? It must be able to stand the test of time. If it does, it is emes. If it does not, it is false.

Emes is eternal. Truth can withstand the test of time. This explains why the letters of emes are found at the beginning, middle, and at the end of the Aleph Beis. This hints to us that emes lasts from the beginning, to the present, until the end.

Hashem's Name Havayah (yud, hey, vov, and hey) also represents that which is eternal. The Name Havayah is a contracted word which incorporates "haya" (was), "hoveh" (is), and "yihiyeh" (will be; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, chap. 5).

Therefore, when the Talmud says that God's seal is emes, it means that God's seal is the Name Havayah.

Not only is Havayah synonymous with emes because they both refer to eternity, but the essence of the Name Havayah demonstrates that it is truthful. We will see this right now.

When Rabban Gamliel was the spiritual leader of the Jewish people, he said that any rabbinic student who was not "Tocho K'baro" (meaning, whose insides did not match his outside), was not allowed to enter the Beis Hamidrash (study hall; Berachos, chap. 4, "Tefillas Hashachar", pg. 28a).

The Megaleh Amukos (parshas Bamidbar) teaches us that Rabban Gamliel used the term "Tocho K'baro" wisely, because it describes the nature of the Shem (name of) Havayah.

Havayah is spelled, yud, hey, vov, and hey. Its numerical value is 26. However, the hidden part of this Name is also 26. What does that mean? Every letter can be spelled. Let's use the letters of the Shem Havayah as an example.

The letter yud is spelled yud vov dalet. The yud part is revealed, but the vov dalet part is hidden. The letter hey is spelled hey hey. The second hey is hidden. The letter vov is spelled vov vov. The second vov is hidden. The final hey is spelled hey hey. The second hey is hidden.

When you take the numerical value of Havayah's hidden letters (vov, dalet, hey, vov, hey), they equal 26 exactly. The revealed letters of the Shem Havayah (yud hey vov hey) are the "Baro" (outside letters), whereas the hidden letters of the Shem Havayah are the "Tocho" (inside letters).

We can apply the term "Tocho K'baro" to the Shem Havayah. This shows us that the essence of the Shem Havayah is emes. Rabban Gamliel said that every rabbinic student must follow the way of Havayah (God) by being truthful through and through. According to Rabban Gamliel, if one's insides (Tocho) did not match his outsides (Baro), he was not deserving of being accepted into the academy.

The connection between "Tocho K'baro" and the Shem Havayah is further illustrated by the words "Tocho K'baro." The word "Tocho" means "inside". So, let's take the inside letters of the word "Tocho." They are, vov and chuf, which have the numerical value of 26, representing the "inside" or hidden letters of the Shem Havayah which also equaled 26.

The word "K'baro" means "like the outside." So, let's take the outside letters of the word "K'baro." They are, chuf and vov, which have the numerical value of 26, representing the "outside" or revealed letters of the Shem Havayah which also equaled 26 numerically (Agra D'Kalla chap. 89; Yismach Moshe parshas Noach citing the Sfas Emes).

This is Eliyahu's mission. To bring us to truthful repentance, returning us to God through and through. We will see an allusion to this right now.

The Gemarah (Berachos, chap. 1, "May-aymasai", pg. 4b) tells us how many times different angels must flap their wings in order to get from one place to another. When speaking about Elijah, it says, "Eliyahu B'arba" (Elijah with four). Simplistically speaking, this means that it takes Eliyahu four flaps to arrive at his desired destination. There is, however, an alternative way of understanding the words "Eliyahu B'arba."

After the battle with Amalek, God said that His Name (Havayah) would be incomplete as long as Amalek lives. Only the letters yud hey of Havayah are present. However, the letters vov hey of Havayah are absent (Rashi, Ex. 17:16).

Therefore, in order to bring about the Final Redemption, we must return the letters vov hey to the Shem Havayah. We can accomplish this by doing Teshuvah (repentance). This is why the word "Teshuvah" is made up of the letters that spell "Tashev vov hey" (return the vov hey).

Once we do Teshuvah, the Geula (redemption) will come. This is why the word "Geula" is made up of the letters that spell Go'el vov hey" (redeem the vov hey).

Now, Eliyahu is going to teach us how to repent truthfully. This means that Eliyahu will be the catalyst of the Redemption. This can be seen in his name "Eliyahu" which is made up of the letters that spell "Eilai vov hey" (I have the vov hey). Meaning, I, Eliyahu, have the mission of returning the vov hey, completing God's Name, by bringing about the Geula which will be ushered in by Teshuvah.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that we find another connection between Eliyahu and the Shem Havayah. Eliyahu is supposed to complete the Shem Havayah. The Shem Havayah is emes through and through, because both its "Baro" letters and "Tocho" letters equal 26 each. When you add 26 (for the Tocho letters) to 26 (for the Baro letters) you get 52. It just "so happens" that the name "Eliyahu" is numerically 52!

This numerical equivalency teaches us that Eliyahu's job is to complete the Shem Havayah. But, he will only succeed in doing that after he teaches us to do a truthful Teshuvah. This means that we must be honest with ourselves. We may not be fakers. We must not rationalize. We must not justify our actions.

We must first admit to our mistakes. Only then, can we hope on improving ourselves.

Our practical application this week is, before going to bed at night, say, "Dear God, please help me admit that I made mistakes in the past. I am sorry for any sins I may have committed today. Please help me do a truthful repentance by assisting me so that I do not stumble in the same mistakes tomorrow."

May we all be blessed to understand that a Jewish leader does not act instead of the people, but rather provides a model to follow. With this in mind, let us all learn from the greats around us and instill in our children the confidence and skill to be the leaders of the next generation. May we also be blessed to meet Eliyahu Hanavi and follow his instruction of doing an Emesseh Teshuvah, through and through, Tocho K'baro, inside and out, so that he bring us the Geula, and save us from our current situation, like he has done in the past many times over, and then, may we bask under the glory of Havayah forever.

Good Shabbos, Warmest wishes, Aba Wagensberg

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