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Parashat Pinhas

A Priestly Lineage

"G-d spoke to Moshe saying: 'Pinhas the son of Elazar the son of Aharon the priest has dispelled my anger from the children of Israel by being zealous for my sake among them; I have not destroyed the children of Israel in my zeal. Therefore tell him: I am granting him my covenant of peace.'"

Rashi attempts to explain why Pinhas' father and grandfather are referred to here. "The Jewish people mocked Pinhas, saying, 'Have you seen how this descendent of Yitro, who fattened calves for idolatrous worship, has killed a prince of one of the Jewish tribes?' Therefore the Torah pointed out that he was not only a descendent of Yitro, but also of Aharon."

Why did the Jews mock Pinhas? Why was G-d's personal assurance that Pinhas had averted His anger insufficient? Had they not seen with their own eyes that a plague had wiped out twenty-four thousand Jews, only stopping with Pinhas' deed?

To explain this reaction of the people, we must realize that religious zeal is not enough, even if it produces positive results. The only time zealotry can be viewed in a good light is if its motivations are pure. Thus, the Jews mocked Pinhas' motivations: "Do you know why Pinhas intervened? Do you know why he took that spear in hand? It is because non-Jewish blood flows in his veins! Foreign motives move him! After all, his ancestor fattened calves for idolatrous worship..."

Therefore the Torah provided Pinhas' lineage. G-d Himself, Who knows the depths of man's heart, made known to all that all of Pinhas' feelings were pure. He was entirely a spiritual descendent of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing it, loving all people and drawing them close to Torah.

The Talmud recounts that Rabban Gamliel once came before the sages of his generation and asked them: "Can anyone here compose a benediction against the Sadducees [a Second Temple era heretical Jewish sect who often persecuted the Rabbis] and the Jewish traitors? Shemuel HaKattan, one of the Rabbis, responded by composing the blessing. [We still say it today in the Amida prayer.]

Rabbi Yehezkel Abramsky, of blessed memory, asked a basic question about this talmudic account: What was so difficult about composing the blessing? True, Shemuel HaKattan was renowned as one of the outstanding sages of his time, "a pious and humble man, a student of Hillel about whom a heavenly voice proclaimed that he would have been as worthy to receive prophecy as Moshe, had the generation been deserving of such a phenomenon (Sanhedrin 11)." But why was such greatness necessary to compose the blessing against heretics?

The answer, Rabbi Abramsky explained, lies in Shemuel Hakattan's personality, reflected in his oft-repeated adage: "When your enemy falls, do not rejoice, and when he stumbles, do not let tour heart be glad." (Avot 4:19) This verse from Proverbs (24:17) was a frequent saying of Shemuel HaKattan. Only such a man could compose a prayer against heretics, because his war against them was totally free of any feeling of gloating at their defeat.

Rabbi Haim of Brisk made a similar point. How can we discern, he asked, whether a given public figure's battles against evil and corruption stem from pure motives, or if it is merely an outlet for his cravings for battle and controversy? Rabbi Haim provided a yardstick by which to measure his sincerity, using the charming but penetrating example of mice. Mice have two natural enemies, he explained. The cat lies in wait to pounce on them, while the housewife also tries to obliterate them by setting traps. Yet an enormous difference exists between the two predators: The housewife despises mice; when she finds them she is disturbed. She wishes they had never lived, and regrets the battle in which she has been caught. Yet the cat -- ah, the cat rejoices over the fact that he has mice to hunt. He is happy when he finds them, joyous when he pursues them, and elated when he catches them ...

True zealotry, of the kind of Pinhas and Shemuel HaKattan, brings peace as its reward, because it, too, yearns for peace. Our way should be that of Aharon the priest: "Loving peace and pursuing it, loving all people, and drawing them close to Torah."

From the Wellsprings of the Parasha

"Pinhas the son of Elazar the son of Aharon has dispelled My wrath ..."

"Therefore tell him: I am giving him My covenant of peace." The Sages explain: "It is only fitting that Pinhas receive his reward." Rabbi Yosef Gabbai, of blessed memory, asked: Don't the Sages teach us that "we perform the mitzvot in this world, but receive their reward in the World to Come"? If so, why did Pinhas receive his reward in this world? He explained that Pinhas restored peace between G-d and His nation, and bringing peace among those who quarrel is an example of a mitzva which one receives some measure of reward for in this world, even though most of his reward in reserved for the World to Come. Hence, "it is only fitting that Pinhas receive his reward."

One would think, said the author of the "Holy One of Israel," that Pinhas' deed would distance him from the priesthood, because Jewish law dictates that a priest who kills another person cannot recite the priestly blessing; yet, Pinhas' action was exactly what granted him the priesthood. The explanation lies in the fact that the murderous priest cannot perform his priestly functions for the same reason that a sword cannot be used in building the altar -- the Temple service brings good and life, not death and the sword. Pinhas, however, dispelled G-d's wrath though his deed and stopped the plague which was destroying the Jewish people. Thus, he increased life, and was therefore deserving through his act of the covenant of the priesthood.

The holy Rabbi Ya'akov Abuhatzira explained that the Jews were mocking Pinhas, as his mother's father Yitro had fattened calves for idolatrous worship. The Talmud, however, tells us that Pinhas' mother had two ancestors -- Yitro and Yosef. Both are hinted at in Pinhas' name; the gematriya of Pinhas is "ben Yosef," the son of Yosef, while that of "ben Elazar ben Aharon" is "ben Yitro." Instead of looking at the idolatrous ancestor, the people should have considered Pinhas' other, righteous, ancestor.

Rabbi Avraham Abuhatzira asked: If G-d was so angry at the Jewish people that He was ready, G-d forbid, to destroy them entirely, why did Pinhas only kill the prince of the tribe of Shimon? He answered: True, they had all sinned, but at least the others left the camp when they behaved inappropriately. The prince of Shimon was the first who wanted to bring a Midianite woman into the midst of the camp, and that could not be passed over in silence ...

The Golden Column:
The Sage Rabbi Yehiya Yitzhak HaLevi of blessed memory

Rabbi Yehiya Yitzhak HaLevi, the rabbi of Tzinaa, followed Pinhas' lead in his own time by defiantly preventing those who would have weakened Judaism from doing so. It was a dangerous time of wars and upheaval, and many Jews faltered in their observance of mitzvot and attempted to imitate non-Jewish ways.

Rabbi Yehiya saw to it that they were isolated from the community; they decided, in response, to ensure that he would never bother them again. They bribed a Muslim judge so that he would accuse the rabbi falsely and cause him to be arrested. The judge agreed and sent a troop of soldiers to bring the rabbi.

Rabbi Yehiya wisely discerned what was happening, so that when the soldiers came, he greeted them with food and drink and made one request of them: that he be allowed, in accordance with his honor, to walk in front while under arrest, with the soldiers following behind. They agreed, and Rabbi Yehiya was thus able to choose the path they would take to the prison. They walked around and around, until they reached the palace of the Imam who respected Rabbi Yehiya. Suddenly Rabbi Yehiya turned quickly and entered the palace! The Imam received him warmly, while Rabbi Yehiya told him that the soldiers were standing outside, ready to arrest him by order of the judge, who, it seems, had been bribed by the rabbi's opponents. The Imam immediately commanded that the judge be summoned; upon his arrival the judge confessed that he had accepted a bribe to falsely imprison the revered rabbi. The enemies of the rabbi were discredited ...

This story teaches us a penetrating lesson. Often Heaven sends our way a "troop of punishments" to rebuke us for our various sins, and we are "imprisoned" in their hands. Yet when we come to the gates of the synagogue, we are slipping away to the palace of the King, and we can beseech Him to free us from any distress and annul any evil decree.

Question and Answer
-- based on the decisions of former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel
Rabbi Ovadya Yosef

Written by Rabbi Moshe Yosef, Head of the Beit Midrash "Me'or Yisrael"

How much wine must one drink in order to exempt other beverages from a blessing?

Last time we explained at length that if one pronounces a "borei peri hagefen" on wine, he need not (and should not) make a blessing on any other beverages which he is drinking at that time. Some of the later authorities write that this is only true if he drinks a substantial amount of wine -- i.e. a cheek's full -- but if he merely tastes the wine, he still must make a blessing on the other beverages. However, other authorities argue and opine that even a tiny sip is enough to exempt one from making a blessing on the other drinks. (This debate is cited in Bi'ur Halacha chapter 174 in the paragraph beginning "Yayin poter.")

There is a general principle in the laws of making blessings that if we are unsure whether one should make a blessing or not, it is better not to make it, rather than risk uttering G-d's name in vain. Thus, here too, since this uncertainty exists, if one drinks even a small amount of wine he should not pronounce a blessing on other drinks which he has afterwards. This is especially true in light of the fact that the Kaf HaHaim (174:5) points out that this is the opinion of Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of the Shulhan Aruch, who merely states that drinking wine absolves one of the need to make a blessing on other drinks without specifying that he drink a certain minimum amount of wine.

Nonetheless, it is proper that one who wants to use his blessing of "hegefen" to cover other drinks should drink at least a cheek's full of wine first. This way he will avoid any controversy. If he has already drunk a small amount of wine, and now wants to have other drinks, he should ask someone who has not had any wine to recite the blessing on the drinks -- "shehakol" -- on his behalf (i.e. the other person should recite the blessing of "shehakol" and the one who had some wine should answer "Amen" and then drink the other beverage). Alternately, the one who had a little wine should have some solid food which requires a blessing of "shehakol" in order to absolve the drinks from needing a blessing beyond any shadow of a doubt. However, one who cannot practice any of these strict ways of avoiding the controversy is entitled to drink other beverages after having a little wine without reciting a "shehakol."

Once he has finished his drink -- having had a sip of wine but a substantial amount of the other beverage -- the Sha'ar Hatziyun raises the issue of what final blessing he should make. Rabbi Ovadya Yosef taught us that since he did not have a substantial amount of wine (i.e. a "revi'it" at one sitting) he cannot make the special final blessing for wine. Since, however, he did have that amount of the other beverage, he should make the final blessing for most beverages -- "bore nefashot." (See Yalkut Yosef section 3.)

To summarize: One who wants to have wine and thus not have to make a blessing on other drinks, should preferable drink a cheek's full (i.e. most of a "revi'it") of wine first. If he only sipped the wine, without drinking a cheek's full, he should ideally try to absolve himself from making the blessing on the other drinks in some other way (e.g. asking a friend to recite "shehakol" for him, or eating some solid with the blessing of "shehakol"), but if he cannot do so, he may drink the other beverage without a blessing, since we rule that in a case of uncertainty we avoid making an additional blessing. As long as he has not had a "revi'it" of wine, however, he does not make the special final blessing for wine. Thus, if he had less than this amount of wine but a "revi'it" of the other beverage, he makes a "bore nefashot" when he is done.

The Blessing of the Rabbi
(Part 9 -- A continuation from last week)

Rabbi Yitzhak Goite of blessed memory, who as a servant boy had an especially warm and kind heart and merited to be blessed by the righteous Sadik with tremendous wealth, excelled in his Torah studies and authored a seminal work, "Sede Yitzhak," on topics in the Talmud.

Rabbi Hai Gabizon recounted how Rabbi Goite, while studying assiduously in the yeshiva of Rabbi Avraham Afadi, once found himself unable to understand a complicated talmudic discussion about identifying non-kosher birds. Suddenly, a raven -- one of the non-kosher birds described in the text -- perched itself on the window next to Rabbi Goite, and allowed him to examine it, until he was able to fully understand the talmudic discussion.

Rabbi Yitzhak continued to grow in Torah, yet he never forgot his roots. "I was a simple lad," he recounted. "We were poor and my family could not afford for me to study. Yet I learned how to read and write, and I was sent to work. Had I not merited the blessing of the Rabbi, and not merited such great wealth, I would still be a mere messenger boy, totally ignorant of Torah! Just think -- how many "Yitzhak Goite"s there must be in the city, and how many "Sede Yitzhak"s which have not been written!" He decided, therefore, to devote his life to educating the youth of his town. Even though he was a renowned sage and scholar, he chose to become the principal of the local school. Through this institution he guided the local youth, and any student who could not afford his education was paid for from money out of Rabbi Goite's own pocket -- the money which had come about due to the Rabbi's blessing.

For many years he served as principal of the school in Triast , until he went to Israel in his old age. It was only a few years after a terrible earthquake had leveled Tzefat, killing many and causing many to leave the ruined city and move to Jerusalem. Rabbi Yitzhak, however, chose specifically to settle in Tzefat, in order to rebuild the ruins with his own money. He helped many families, and, as was his wont, invested in the area of education.

He established a stunning yeshiva in town, constructed from Italian marble. He helped, as well, to build and restore other synagogues. Tradition has it that he build the structure around the grave of the holy Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai in Meron.

To this day Rabbi Yitzhak Goite is remembered with pride by the residents of Tzefat, who have been holding memorial services for him in the various local synagogues since his passing two hundred and twenty three years ago. May his soul be bound up in the bind of eternal life.

The Greatest of All

Who was the greatest of all the students of Rabbi Yehuda the Prince, our holy master? Who was known as the "Great One?" It was the great and holy Rabbi Hiyya. When the prophet Eliyahu appeared to Rabbi Yehuda the Prince, we are told, he appeared in the form of Rabbi Hiyya.

When Rabbi Yehuda the Prince died, he commanded that the political leadership of the Jewish people should be assumed by his son. But whom did he appoint as Rosh Yeshiva in his stead? It was not Rabbi Hiyya, but rather Rabbi Hanina bar Hama. Rabbi Hanina refused the position out of modesty, and in turn the position was offered -- not to the great Rabbi Hiyya, but to another rabbi, Rabbi Afas.

Why was this greatest of Rabbi Yehuda's students, the author of the Tosefta, passed over? We should not think that he was overlooked, G-d forbid.

Instead, he was involved in a task much greater than that of heading the yeshiva, and the rabbis did not want to disturb him from that task. What could be more important than teaching Torah in the great yeshiva of Rabbi Yehuda, which at the time comprised luminaries such as Rav, Rabbi Yohanan, Rabbi Hanina, Rabbi Afas, and Levi, angelic rabbis about whom we are told that the least important among them had the power to resurrect the dead? What could Rabbi Hiyya have been doing?

He taught Torah to the children of Israel!

He taught in holiness and purity, ensuring that the Torah would never be forgotten by the Jewish people.

The Jewish people need teachers in the tradition of Rabbi Hiyya, who will teach the youngest children about their heritage. It is the mission of our generation one of saving countless generations of Jewish souls.

The Wonders of Creation
The Heart

The human heart is unique. All the events in a man's life are expressed through his heart. The heart is horrified, it can be described as soft or hard, warm or cold, pure or impure. The heart is a muscle which is in the chest between the lungs and above thewindpipe. It looks like an upside-down pear with the wider side on top. It is about as big as the human fist and weighs about 300 grams. It contains four chambers, two upper chambers and two lower chambers. The dividing wall between them will not allow even a drop of blood to penetrate.

The primary function of the human heart is to pump the blood throughout the various parts of the body. It begins to work even before man is born, while he is still in the womb as a fetus -- and continues until his last breath. When we consider the heart even as a mere automatic pumping machine, we realize how incredible it is, above and beyond human comprehension. Any man-made machine must inevitably be shut down at least once a year in order to clean it thoroughly; yet the heart does not stop, pumping about seventy times a minute day and night. Each heartbeat carries blood to the lungs, where it absorbs the oxygen from the air and leaves behind the carbon dioxide which is then expelled when the person breaths. Then the blood returns to the heart fresh and purified from the "dross" which had previously been a part of it.

We do not have space here to detail all of the wondrous activities of the heart and how it circulates the blood. But dear readers, when it comes to the Jewish heart we must realize without a doubt that the position held by certain individuals, that it is enough to be a Jew "at heart," is totally false. One periodically hears a statement like, "In my heart, I am a true Jew," or "What really matters is what's in your heart." Such people think that since they do not cheat anyone, they give charity, and act ethically, that they need not act like a Jew in their daily lives. Such a person is seriously mistaken; he is indeed not complete as a Jew. A complete Jew, in addition to his high ethical behavior, puts on tefillin every day, wears tzitzit, and fulfills all the practical mitzvot which are the only vehicle by which a Jew can be distinguished from mankind in general. This is true as well for Jewish women, who should perform all of the mitzvot in which the Torah obligates her.

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