Parashat Pinchas: Open Roads, Zealotry and Shallow Vessels

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05 Jul 2007

Parashat Pinchas 5767

Part One: Born out of sin, continued in transgression

This week, beginning with the 17th of Tamuz, a three-week period of progressive mourning will commence, peaking on the 9th of Av.

One might expect that the release from this emotionally charged period would also be progressive so as not to wreak havoc with our mental and emotional state. But alas, the reality is quite different, for six days later on the 15th of Av we celebrate one of the two happiest days in the Jewish calendar year, as the Mishna in masechet Ta’anit states: “There were no happier days (yamim tovim) than Yom Kippur and the 15th of Av”.

The Talmud Yerushalmi in Ta’anit states that the reason Yom Kippur is a “yom tov” is obvious, for on this day our sins are eradicated. However, it poses the question about what transpired on the 15th of Av to elevate it to the level of happiness of Yom Kippur.

And the Gemara explains that on this day the king of the northern tribes of Israel, Hoshea ben Ayla, rescinded an edict prohibiting the Jews of the northern tribes to go up to Yerushalayim. In order to fully appreciate what this meant, we have to go back 300 years prior to the time of Hoshea ben Ayla.

The arch-rasha (wicked person), Yeravam ben Nevat, incited the people of the northern tribes to secede from the union that had begun with King Shaul, followed by King David, King Shlomo and then his contemporary, Shlomo’s son Rechav’am.

In order to complete the secession, Yeravam began interpreting the Torah in his own way and thereby creating the first reform movement; but the formal act of secession was accomplished by closing the roads to Yerushalayim. He created two substitute spiritual centers – Bet El and Dan in the north – knowing that as long as the connection to Yerushalayim existed, his breakaway nation would not endure. Yeravam imposed a harsh prohibition on going to Yerushalayim, placing police along the entire border.

This situation continued for over three hundred years, during which time the Jews of the north were severed from Yerushalayim and the Bet Hamikdash. Upon ascending the throne, Hoshea ben Ayla withdrew the border guards and opened the way to Yerushalayim – and this happened on the 15 th of Av. Indeed, this was a day to parallel Yom Kippur, for now the Jews would be able to offer korbanot in the Mikdash and achieve kapara for their sins.

After this explanation in the Talmud Yerushalmi, Rav Kahana asked that if Hoshea was such a great man, why then in his time did Shalmanetzer, King of Assyria, invade the northern tribes and succeed in exiling all the Jews? To this the Talmud answers that Hoshea ben Ayla opened the way to Yerushalayim – BUT NO ONE CAME.

And the Gemara explains that in the three hundred years when pilgrimage to the Holy City was prohibited by the evil kings, the heavenly bet din could not accuse the people of the north of neglecting their responsibilities to Yerushalayim. However, now that the government permitted the movement of people to the Holy City, there was no longer an excuse for not going. It was as if HaShem were saying, “You did not come to my house, so I will eject you from your houses”.

Thus, we find that although the 15th of Av began as a huge holiday paralleling Yom Kippur, the day in fact became part of the mourning period no less then Tisha b’Av itself.

In modern times, there were periods when Jewish aliya to Eretz Yisrael was prohibited or limited. For example, the British issued a White Paper in 1939 (at the same time that the Germans’ final solution to the Jewish question was already known), limiting Jewish immigration to 5,000 people a year for a maximum of five years. Just to get an idea what 5,000 a year meant, 10,000 Jews were murdered every day at Auschwitz-Birkenau alone. Hence the heavenly court did not bring an accusation for not returning home. However, 55 years ago, the gates of Eretz Yisrael were thrown open to all Jews and the call was made to return home and receive immediate citizenship under the beautiful name of “The Law of Return”.

In the year 1962, when I came on aliya, there were 677 Americans who came from out of the millions of Jews in the United States.

This year, as we fast on the 17th of Tamuz and on the 9th of Av, let us be cognizant of the fact that we are fasting not only for what happened to the two Batei Mikdash thousands of years ago, but also for the destruction of masses of Jews in the spiritual holocaust occurring in front of our eyes, which is attributed to the continued presence of Jews in the galut.

I am frequently asked how I can negate the Jewish communities of the galut when great gedolim continue to live there. I find myself in the unenviable position of standing in opposition to many great rabbanim. Having known and studied under many of these great people and knowing many sources which describe the unique status that Eretz Yisrael maintains in our belief, I answer this question in the following way: Each of us was born one by one, even twins emerge from their mother one by one. Essentially we live one by one; for if your head hurts, your wife can give you an aspirin, but it’s your own head that throbs. We also die one by one, and are buried one by one, and eventually stand before the heavenly court one by one. I am sure that the gedolim of Chutz La’aretz have their excuse for not coming home, which they will state before the heavenly court – BUT THEIR EXCUSE IS NOT YOUR EXCUSE.

May we all meet in Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh in the near future and close this tragic parenthesis in Jewish history – a period born out of sin, continued in transgression and maintained to this day by iniquity; and may we merit to witness the fulfillment of the prophesy of Zecharia (8,19):

“Thus says the Lord of Hosts, the fast of the fourth (month – the 17th of Tamuz) and the fast of the fifth (9th of Av) and the fast of the seventh (the fast of Gedalia) and the fast of the tenth (10th of Tevet) shall be for the house of Yehuda for joy and celebration and holiday when truth and peace will live in love.

Part two: The Agony and the Tragedy

Two years have passed since our former Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, ejected Jews from their homes in the areas of the tribes of Shimon and Efrayim, in order to transfer their homes and the fruits of their 30 years of labor to the Arab murderers who have taken such a terrible toll on Jewish life in Eretz Yisrael.

The events which have grown out of this ACTION serve to emphasize the agony and the tragedy.

I am not referring to the agony and tragedy of the residents of Gush Katif and northern Shomron, who, of course, are the direct victims of this unprecedented, sinful act; but to the agony of the secular Jew of Eretz Yisrael and to the tragedy of the Orthodox Jew in the United States.

The agony of the secular Jew in Eretz Yisrael stems from his inability to realize the great dream of secular Zionism – to finally be able to live as a Gentile.

In the lands of our dispersion, despite our huge efforts to be like the Gentile – to talk like him, to dress like him, to sit in his parliaments, and even to be anti-Semitic like him for the singular purpose of being accepted in the hallowed halls of his country clubs and fraternities – we did not succeed. So the last hope of the secular Zionist was to create his own Gentile-like society in our historic homeland.

However, despite all his efforts, he is not permitted to forget the unhappy fact of his Jewish birth, because all around him are the inescapable signs of Torah and mitzvot. The food he eats has not one hechsher but at least two – the badatz and that of the chief rabbinate. He has difficulty finding chametz on Pessach and frequently is forced to enter some Arab village to get a succulent piece of pita. He cannot escape the announcement on the radio when Shabbat begins. He would climb the walls in his madness, but then the chances of being treated by a doctor with a kippa returns him to his unhappy state of sanity. He travels to the four corners of the globe to feel cosmopolitan, a citizen of the world; but, at the end of the day, he has to return to the Alice in Wonderland of Eretz Yisrael.

He cannot shake off the signs of his Judaism, but perhaps his children will succeed where his generation has failed. So he lets his children rule the roost. His daughters dress in a fashion which would send their grandmother into depression. His sons are free to roam from one disco to another, returning home reeking of alcohol.

He cannot escape his failure to be a Hebrew-speaking Gentile, because before his very eyes a generation of youth is growing up, the likes of which the Jewish nation has not seen since the days of the Macabbees.

The hundreds of thousands of young religious people, who are now expressing their absolute loyalty to Torah and Eretz Yisrael, are a mystery to the disciples of the Hashomer Hatza’ir, etc. Mr. Sharon has the merit of having created a crucible for forging a unified ideology when the Hebrew-speaking Gentile lifestyle will give way to the holiness which ultimately must permeate Eretz Ha’kodesh.

Wherever our secular Zionist friend goes, he cannot escape the spectacle of the knitted kippa. It is not unusual that he will meet a doctor, who has smicha (rabbinic ordination) and is also a colonel in an infantry brigade. He sees the streets on Shabbat filled with young boys and girls speaking Hebrew, but he doesn’t understand a word they are saying: Parashat hashavua, mechirat karka, shevi’it, haf’rashat truma, muktza. Suddenly he is finding out that the majority of middle rank officers in Tzahal studied in yeshivot – captains, majors, lieutenant colonels, colonels, brigadier generals, pilots of F-16s, submarine captains, recipients of Israel’s highest military awards – and unfortunately, he learns too of the disproportionate number of religious soldiers who are buried in military cemeteries.

He walks his dog on Shabbat morning, thinking of the trip he will be taking to the Hermon for a day of skiing with his wife and two children. Passing him is a couple walking to the bet ha’knesset (synagogue) with their six children, a seventh in the carriage and another in the womb.

He agonizes over the failure of Herzl and Ben Gurion to “deliver the goods” which would have permitted him to finally live as the Gentile he so much envies.

The agony which the deprived Israeli suffers is just the opposite of the gratification which comprises the tragedy of the Orthodox Jew of the Western world.

If our Sabra friend is not permitted to realize the life he so much longs for, the Orthodox Jew in the diaspora is the tragic victim of the Gentile permitting him to practice the life style our secular friend in Israel so much wants.

The kiss of the Gentile is the kiss of death. The acceptance of the Jew with the “yarmulka” in the halls of business, law, medicine and politics ushers the Jew into a bottomless pit.

In this so comfortable and accepting society, the Jew has no chance to rise up to the responsibilities HaShem has placed on the generation preceding the Mashiach.

Build more communities. Embellish, extol, glorify and make more magnificent, splendid, stately, luxurious, glorious, palatial, deluxe, grandiose shuls – the more impressive so that in the not too distant future, when they become churches or mosques, the new occupiers will be impressed with Jewish taste.

In our parsha, Moshe knows the secret of Jewish survival. He pleads that after his demise, HaShem appoint a worthy leader; one who will go before the nation and lead, and not one who looks over his shoulder to see if his “rating” is going up. HaShem answers the call and appoints Yehoshua. Yehoshua is the loyal student of Moshe, who never leaves his master’s side. Yehoshua is a talmid chacham, upon whose shoulders rest the continuity of Torah, as stated in Pirkei Avot. But Yehoshua is more than a rebbe. He is the general who will defeat the enemies of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael. He will distribute the land and begin the first Jewish Commonwealth in the Holy Land.

Where is such a leader today? The truth is that he is coming. Rambam in hilchot Melachim states that one of the signs of the Mashiach is that he will fight the Jewish wars. Such a man will not be found in Lakewood or Monsey. He is now bent over a page of the Gemara in a yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael, until his draft call will come in the mail. When his time will come, the agony and the tragedy will end.

The secular Jew in Eretz Yisrael will no longer seek the “beauty” of Yeffet, and the Jew in Chutz La’aretz will extinguish the torch on the Statue of Liberty in favor of the ner tamid (eternal flame) in the Bet Hamikdash.

My generation is responsible for creating the institutional infrastructure of the Third Jewish Commonwealth – the total educational system from nursery to kollelim for dayanut (judges for the religious courts); the settlements in Yehuda and Shomron; the best soldiers in the IDF; and cadres of professional people in all walks of life. The coming young generation will be the one to translate these achievements into political action.

Moshe Rabbeinu would be very proud to see what his teachings have produced to date. And prouder still when the “leader” he requested will soon appear to restore our nation to the sanity we have lost through acts such as Mr. Sharon’s “disengagement” from parts of our homeland.

In the near future, with HaShem’s blessings and in fulfillment of His plan for us at Mount Sinai, we will realize through democratic means the changes necessary to bring to fruition the dream of generations of becoming the “holy people”.

Part Three: Zealotry misplaced

“ISRAEL IS AT WAR” was the screaming headlines of every paper a year ago.

Oh that it were only true!…

Because this headline infers that there has been a change in our status; that until now we have been at peace, but now ISRAEL IS AT WAR. However, the brutal facts of life are quite different. We have been at war since the 5th of Iyar 5708 (May 14, 1948), when the Medina was declared.

A more accurate statement would be that we have been at war with the Arab Amalekites here since the first chalutz drove the blade of his plow into the ground over 100 years ago.

However, the most accurate statement would be that we have been at war with the world starting with the appearance of Avraham Aveinu in Ur Kasdim 3500 years ago, continuing with the destruction of the first Temple by the Babylonians, then with the breach of Jerusalem’s walls on the 17th of Tammuz in the year 70 CE leading to the destruction of the second Temple, and continuing with the 2000-year horror story of the galut.

I will return to this later.

Mitzvot are rewarded partially in this world and totally in the next world; as are sins, for which retribution is forthcoming, partially in this world and totally in the next world, with one major difference – HaShem is not as enthusiastic, nor quick, to punish as He is to reward.

In this week’s parsha, the Jewish people sin through the advice given by Bilaam to Balak to use the daughters of his nation as weapons of war to weaken our moral level.

The attribute of justice comes before the heavenly throne demanding to be applied against the sinners of Israel, who number many tens of thousands. HaShem, who has chosen the people of Israel as His own, must now unwillingly rise from the “seat of compassion” to take His place on the “seat of harsh justice.” He hesitates, for it is His desire that the sinner repent, because the Giver of life prefers life over the cold emptiness of death. Notwithstanding HaShem’s desire, justice is tenacious and refuses to be delayed.

Suddenly, from all the leaders of the nation who stand paralyzed not knowing how to deal with the iniquities unfolding before their very eyes, emerges Pinchas, son of Elazar, who is the son of Aharon hakohen. Pinchas enters the tent of Zimri, son of Salu and head of the tribe of Shimon, who is the leader in the revolt against God and Moshe, and kills him and the woman who is with him, Kasbie the daughter of Tzur.

The rebellion wanes; and although in its wake twenty four thousand Jews are punished with death, the Jewish nation as such remains alive, and the attribute of justice is satiated.

HaShem responds to Pinchas’ initiative as stated in Bamidbar 25:10-13

פִינְחָס בֶן אֶלְעָזָר בֶן אַהֲרֹן הַכֹהֵן הֵשִיב אֶת חֲמָתִי מֵעַל בְנֵי יִשְרָאֵל בְקַנְאוֹ אֶת קִנְאָתִי בְתוֹכָם וְלֹא כִלִיתִי אֶת בְנֵי יִשְרָאֵל בְקִנְאָתִי: לָכֵן אֱמֹר הִנְנִי נֹתֵן לוֹ אֶת בריתי שלוֹם: וְהָיְתָה לוֹ ולְזַרְעוֹ אַחֲרָיו בְרִית כְהֻנַת עוֹלָם תַחַת אֲשֶר קִנֵא לֵאלֹהָיו וַיְכַפֵר עַל בְנֵי יִשְרָאֵל

Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aharon the Kohen, appeased my anger against the Children of Israel in his zealousness, and I refrained from eradicating the Children of Israel in my anger. Therefore, inform him that I have rewarded him with my covenant of peace, and he and his descendants will forever be Kohanim because of his zealousness for his Lord and thus bringing about repentance for the Children of Israel.

Pinchas merits this eternal treasure, because he facilitated HaShem’s return to the “seat of compassion” by dispelling HaShem’s wrath against His beloved Children of Israel.

The lesson arising from the episode of Pinchas and his reward of the blessing of peace is that whoever causes peace between HaShem and His sometimes wayward Children of Israel is loved by HaShem. And the converse – he who causes strife and anger between the Almighty and His chosen nation is to be condemned, and any peace which this person has merited can be taken away.

Following in the style of Pirkei Avot, I say that there are six choices in the liturgy of Yom Ha’atzma’ut:

1- To recite the entire Hallel with a bracha

2- To recite the entire Hallel without a bracha

3- To recite half Hallel with a bracha

4- To recite half Hallel without a bracha

5- To not recite Hallel nor tachanun (additions to the prayers which are omitted on even semi-festive days)

6- To not say Hallel but insist on saying tachanun

1- Those who recite the entire Hallel with a bracha are acting in the spirit of what was once told to me by a survivor, “Whoever was in Bergen-Belsen for one hour says Hallel ten times on Yom Ha’atzmaut.” He recognized the awesomeness of the miracle of Medinat Yisrael.

2- Those who recite the entire Hallel without a bracha also recognize the miracle but have formalistic, halachic problems with the bracha.

3,4 – Those who recite half Hallel with or without a bracha seemingly do not realize that half Hallel is not Hallel but just a minhag, but the entity called Medinat Yisrael with its 5 million Jews is much more than a “minhag.”

5- Those who do not recite Hallel nor tachanun (additions to the prayers which are omitted on even semi-festive days) are simply confused people.

6- Those who do not say Hallel but insist on saying tachanun, claim that the leaders of the Medina are not “frum” and that the entire Torah is not the constitution of the land.

If their criticism were sincere, the natural reaction of a pure Jewish neshama would be to say, “The leaders of the Medina are not “frum” and the entire Torah is not the constitution of the land. Therefore, I will join the religious, God-fearing Jews in Eretz Yisrael and we together will struggle and strive to rectify the situation.

Unfortunately, those who zealously point a finger in holy wrath and scream and sermonize in their yeshivot and from their pulpits that the leaders of the Medina are not “frum” and that the entire Torah is not the constitution of the land, continue to sit until the time when the land will be worthy of their presence.

Their cries of “goyim, shkutzim, apikorsim” when speaking of the holy nation in Eretz Yisrael are effective for only one thing – to arouse the anger of God instead of bringing peace and love between Him and His nation.

These religious leaders do not realize that if they succeed in arousing the attribute of anger, they will be the first to feel its brunt – for they are the antithesis of Pinchas.

And if Pinchas was rewarded with the blessings of shalom for restoring peace and love between HaShem and His nation, we can only imagine what the antithesis of this gift is when applied to those who incite and foment conflict and discord between our Father in Heaven and His children.

This would be the appropriate time for those religious leaders to calculate their misdeeds and gather their communities in solemn prayer for the Jews who have chosen to cast their lot and fate for the honor of HaShem and His nation.

In addition, there is for the Jews in the galut no more appropriate time to demonstrate their solidarity with the people of Eretz Yisrael then to visit here in these times of war and strife.

We do not ask you to send your sons into battle, because our sons can do it better. What we do ask, for your sake, is to adopt the ways of Pinchas and cease to dispense hatred and fractured relations between Am Yisrael and HaShem.

It is proven that when hate is withdrawn it is replaced with love.

Part Four: Anonymity, derision, heroism, condemnation

If you hold a shallow vessel under a fast-flowing waterfall, how much water will be collected in the vessel? Not very much – if at all!

In order to collect the water, it would be necessary to reduce the flow or to deepen the vessel.

We, the Jewish people, and certainly all others who comprise the human race, are shallow vessels under a flow of the last 100 years of history, which is so immense that we are incapable of interpreting what is transpiring right in front of us.

We cannot decrease the flow of history, because that is in G-d’s realm. However, we can make sense of the events of our lives by deepening our understanding. This can be done by relating current event to precedents which are found in the Bible.

After forty years of living a Torah life under the leadership of Moshe Rabbeinu, and now being poised to enter the Promised Land, many within the nation, including some of the leaders, fall prey to the temptations of the Midianite women.

Moshe, the ultimate rabbi, teacher and savior of the nation stands by paralyzed, not knowing what to do. When the Jews made a golden calf and when they refused to enter Eretz Yisrael, Moshe defended them before HaShem, claiming that they did not yet absorb the teachings of the Torah. But now after 40 years of living a Torah life, what line of defense could Moshe take?

From out of nowhere appears Pinchas, who until then was belittled because of his questionable genealogy (see Rashi on the first verse). He kills Zimri, Prince of the tribe of Shimon, and causes the rebellion against God to wane.

But even after his successful and heroic effort, he does not gain the respect of the nation. Quite the opposite. Many among the nation demand that he be put to death for killing a prince of Israel.

Anonymity, derision, heroism, condemnation – this was the fate of Pinchas, until the time when HaShem acknowledged his contribution to the future of the Jewish nation.

The same set of circumstances reappears four hundred years later. The army of Israel stood on one side of the valley facing the Philistines, who were standing on the opposite side. From out of the enemy camp, came forth a towering figure covered with armor and holding a long spear. The infamous Goliat (Goliath) standing halfway between the two camps threw out a challenge to the Jews, “Why should we slaughter one another. Let one of you contend with me and the winner take all. If I am the victor, then you, the people of Israel, will be our slaves; if I lose, we shall be your slaves.

There was no one among the Jewish soldiers who was prepared to accept the challenge. For forty days, Goliat would come forth to mock the Jewish nation and ridicule our divinity, with no one prepared to eliminate this chillul HaShem.

Yishai sends David to the battle front to deliver food to his older brothers and documents of divorce, which was standard procedure for soldiers going off to the Jewish wars in the event they would not return and there would not be sufficient proof of their death, rendering their wives as agunot (women whose marital status is undetermined and therefore forbidden to marry another).

David arrives at the battle front and sees the illustrious Jewish army with its Chief of Staff, King Shaul, gripped with fear by the blasphemous ridiculing of Goliat. David, the anonymous, rejected son of Yishai, steps forward to accept the challenge of the powerful “war machine” called Goliat, to the chagrin and humiliation of the professional soldiers of Israel.

David fells Goliat with a single stone from his slingshot and saves the Jewish nation.

For all his efforts, David is rewarded by becoming a hunted man throughout the entire land.

Anonymity, derision, heroism, condemnation – this was the fate of Pinchas and the fate of David until the time when HaShem acknowledged their contributions to the future of the Jewish nation.

In our time, the world is being threatened by Islamic fascism, which seeks world domination and the creation of a single-world kaliphdom.

The Muslims slither around in almost every country. Russia has them on their southern flank. Paris and London are crawling with them. New York, Detroit, and all other major cities in the US are festering with them. Iran is developing a nuclear weapon, and Moslem Pakistan already has its own arsenal.

Iran has threatened to “wipe Israel off the map” as a starter, with the entire Western World as the main course. Egypt, with millions of citizens hungering for bread and no foreign enemies, maintains the largest army in the Middle East.

The scene is set for the nations of Europe and the US to preempt the evil axis of Islam.

But no! These nations stand paralyzed before the dangers right in front of their faces. Their arsenals are filled with the most sophisticated weapons which could eradicate the threat from Islam forever. Yet, the Western World lacks the courage and fortitude to save itself.

From out of this emerges a tiny country, Yisrael, whose name cannot even fit within its territorial area on a map; a country whose attributes are those of Pinchas and David – anonymity and derision.

“Anonymity” in the sense that we are ostracized by most multi-national organizations. It took us 50 years to be accepted into the International Red Cross; and when they finally agreed two months ago, it was only under the condition that we use either the symbol of the red cross or the red crescent, but not a red star of David.

“Derision” because there is no other nation that has been condemned more times than Israel in the United Nations. We are the only member state that has not been allowed to belong to a regional organization (e.g., EU, Organization of African States), therefore disqualifying us from serving on the Security Council.

Yet, it was the miniscule (but muscular) air force of Israel which destroyed the Iraqi nuclear plant and stopped the dictator of Iraq from carrying out his depraved plans. Our pilots returned safely and miraculously to their base, to the condemnation of the community of nations.

Once again, anonymity, derision, heroism, condemnation – the fate of Pinchas, David and the State of Israel.

The State of Israel is fulfilling the task, which should have been assumed by the leading democratic nation of the world, of destroying Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, who are the metastases of the cancer emanating from Teheran.

And when we complete the task and save the free world from Islamic fascism, we can expect the same response meted out to Pinchas and David – condemnation by those who know that they are too cowardly to defend the principles in which they themselves believe.

Pinchas was rewarded for his efforts by receiving Kehuna, and David was rewarded by receiving the monarchy. Let it be HaShem’s will to reward the people in Eretz Yisrael in our time with Kehuna in the Bet Hamikdash and the restoration of the Davidic monarchy.

So let us pray to HaShem for the safety of our soldiers and the safety of the entire Jewish population of Eretz Yisrael, who together are the strong right arm of HaShem in eradicating evil from the world.

Shabbat Shalom, Nachman Kahana

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.