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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Pinchas

Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aharon Hakohen turned back My wrath when he zealously avenged My vengeance…Behold I give him My Covenant of Peace. (25:12,11)

Kinah and shalom, zealousness and peace, vengeance and harmony, are terms that just do not seem to fit together. At first glance, one would think that they contrast one another. The Torah does not present it in this light. Pinchas acted zealously; he avenged Hashem's vengeance, and Hashem rewarded him with the Covenant of Peace. It was not, however, Pinchas' personal vengeance. Rather, he acted on behalf of Hashem. That makes a world of difference. Someone had to respond to the fact that Hashem's Name was being defamed. Pinchas saw the people's apathy. Everyone just stood by while Zimri acted in the most reprehensible manner. This was a gross chillul Hashem, profaning of Hashem's Name, which could only be ameliorated through a Kiddush Hashem. The perpetrator, regardless of his exalted position, must be stopped in such a manner that would shock the people back into reality. Pinchas returned the crown of peace to Klal Yisrael. He returned the shalom, peace, by bringing back Klal Yisrael's sheleimus, completion. Pinchas' act of kiddush Hashem healed the rift which the chillul Hashem had caused. Klal Yisrael was once again at peace.

Pinchas risked his life when he slew Zimri. It was worth it to avenge Hashem's Name. He was also prepared to relinquish his portion in Olam Habah, World to Come, in order to save Klal Yisrael from the plague. He "bargained" with Hashem, as he implored Him not to punish everyone in response to the sinners. The Meshech Chochmah explains that these two actions - avenging Hashem's Name; and renouncing himself on behalf of Klal Yisrael -- were rooted in his genes. They were character traits he inherited from his father, Elazar, and grandfather, Aharon. Nikmas Hashem, zealousness, vengeance on behalf of the Almighty, characterized Elazar. When Aharon HaKohen died and the Clouds of Glory were taken away, the Jews moved backwards; they did not want to go further. Elazar battled them to continue on. Selflessness, a willingness to renounce oneself for the good of the People, characterized Aharon. In order to delay Klal Yisrael's sin with the Golden Calf for one more day, he was prepared to make the calf himself. He said, "Let the onus of guilt be placed on me, so that Klal Yisrael will not be destroyed." Is it any wonder the Torah mentions Pinchas' father and grandfather in delineating his pedigree. He continued where they had left off.

Not every kanai, zealot, however, is a Pinchas. There are many who are motivated by their own interests, to further their personal gain. Pinchas is, indeed, in a unique class: the true zealot, the kanai l'shem Shomayim, for Heaven's sake. How are we able to discern between the true zealot and the chameleon, the one who surreptitiously acts in the Name of Hashem, but in reality is an agent of Satan?

The Baal Shem Tov distinguishes between the two kanaim that are mentioned in the Torah: Pinchas and Korach. Yes, Korach claimed the mantle of zealotry. He said that he represented the nation that was being "used" by Moshe and Aharon. They were being deprived of true leadership! What right did Moshe and Aharon have to take everything for themselves? What about the other Bnei Levi? Who said that a Kohen Gadol was necessary for a nation that was entirely holy? Yes, Korach presented himself as being sincere, as a true fighter for the honor of the people. In contrast, Pinchas acted with vengeance; he was a zealot. Obviously, Pinchas was, while Korach was not. What did each do that determined his true character?

The Torah answers our question "b'kano es kinaasi b'socham" "as he zealously avenged My vengeance among them." Pinchas did not make a new monument. He did not separate from the nation to create a new splinter group, as Korach did. Pinchas did what had to be done. Korach needed the support of an entire movement. Korach sought to undermine, to destroy, to uproot the leadership of Klal Yisrael, so that he could assume power. Not Pinchas: he saw a moral outrage, and he immediately responded. He cared about peace; he remained b'soch ha'eidah, among the people.

Kanaus catalyzes divisiveness; zealotry severs relationships; If the situation destroys the harmony and unity of a community, it is not kanaus: It is glorified machlokes, controversy. It is the Korachs of each generation who wrap themselves in talleisim of techeles and expound their love of Torah and mitzvos. The talleisim only serve to conceal their real malicious intentions.

We note another distinction between Pinchas and Korach. Pinchas acted alone. He saw an incursion into the moral fabric of Judaism, and he responded immediately. That is kanaus. Korach deliberated and campaigned, going from place to place to gather a group of supporters who would stand by him. That is not kanaus. The kanai acts alone. He acts with urgency and immediacy. He does not search for supporters. He observes a chillul Hashem, and he acts. Korach cared about himself. He was not going to risk losing. He sought support. Pinchas' goal was l'shem Shomayim. Korach's goal was to benefit Korach.

The name of the slain Israelite man who was slain with the Midianite woman was Zimri, son of Salu, Prince of a father's house of (the tribe of) Shimon. (25:14)

Is it necessary to tell us the name of the Jewish perpetrator as well as to mention his illustrious lineage? Is there any purpose served by announcing that the one who has publicly debased himself, who flagrantly desecrated Hashem's Name, was a Nasi, a leader of shevet Shimon? Rashi states that since the Torah traces the ancestry of the tzadik Pinchas for the sake of praise, it delineates the ancestry of the evil one for disparagement. Indeed, Pinchas' act of vengeance becomes greater, his courage more significant, when we take into consideration whom it was that he killed. We still wonder whether it is necessary to include Zimri's ancestors. They are not the guilty ones. Let Zimri himself, not his ancestors, answer for Zimri.

Horav Yechezkel Levinstein, zl, feels that the Torah teaches us a profound lesson. Despite the degradation inherent in the sin, we must account for every aspect of the evil. Zimri perpetrated a terrible sin. He publicly profaned the Name of Hashem in an act that was both despicable and immoral. He will be called to task for this. He will also have to answer for besmirching his family name. He carries the onus of guilt for not living up to the position of Nasi. This is consistent with the Rambam's position in his Igeres Ha'Shemad in which he writes that Yaravam ben Nevat, the infamous choteh u'machati -- who himself sinned and caused others to sin, who split Klal Yisrael -- will have to answer to Hashem for his evil, as well as for not sitting in the sukkah. One would think that the importance of such a sin would be minimized in the light of his other, more exotic, transgressions. Not so.

There are those who think that once they have transgressed a number of serious offenses, they automatically become members of the "select" group of porkei ol Torah, those who have rejected the yoke of Torah. They assume that they will be responsible only for the "big" sins, but not for the "little" ones. They are, however, categorically wrong. Hashem will hold them in contempt for everything: from chillul Shabbos; to eating unkosher food; to wasting their time when they should have been studying Torah.

This idea disputes the position which many alienated Jews hold: that one either performs "everything" or "nothing." The Heavenly Tribunal will address the big issues, not the small ones. One who rejects everything sacred to the Jewish People, from Shabbos to tefillin, from kashrus to fidelity in marriage, does not have to concern himself with bentching after his meal. Regrettably, this form of misguided hashkafah, philosophy, has plagued many a Jew, initiating him on a course that distances him further and further from Torah Judaism. One should never absolve himself of his lesser infractions, maintaining that they are overshadowed by the much greater ones.

The Gaon M'Vilna once walked by a house where he heard singing. He entered the house - and, to his chagrin -- he discovered a young man who had left the faith singing together with a gentile girl. The Gaon turned to his student and said, "This rasha, wicked one, will one day answer to the Heavenly Tribunal for all of his sins: from his rejection of our faith to the reason that he did not study the secrets of the Heavenly Chariot. It will not happen immediately. He will undergo significant hardship and suffering until he reaches the level of purity, when the only criticism against him will be his lack of studying kaballah, mysticism." This is the depth of Heavenly Judgement to which we are all vulnerable.

The sons of Gad according to their families: to Tzephon, the Tzephonite family; to Chagi, the Chaggite family. (26:15)

What seems to be an innocuous pasuk detailing members of shevet Gad is rendered homiletically by the Bobover Rebbe, Shlita, to be communicating a profound lesson. He cites the Maor Va'Shamesh who says that the two letters of the name Gad -- gimel, daled -- allude to the mitzvah of tzedakah, charity. The letters are a "notreikun," acronym, for two words -- "gomel dalim," - he who benefits the poor. There are two aspects to the mitzvah of tzedakah: There is the individual who gives his money quietly, without fanfare and publicity. He does not seek recognition or acclaim for his charitable deeds. There is another type of gomel dalim; he who publicizes his charitable deeds, seeking notoriety for whatever good he does.

Each of these forms of tzedakah has an advantage and a disadvantage. The former has the benefit of "hatznea leches im Hashem Elokecha," "walk humbly with Hashem your G-d." (Michah 6:8) Privacy, humility, self-effacement: These are qualities that elevate the act of giving charity. The downside of "quiet" giving is that the individual cannot serve as a paradigm for others to emulate. People follow the example of others. It would be helpful if others could follow his good deed - if only they knew. The latter individual, who gives publicly, seeking attention for his acts of kindness, will at least inspire others to follow in his path. The disadvantage of his public act is, of course, the arrogance that goes to his head -- demeaning the nobility and beauty of his act of kindness.

This is the pasuk's message: The sons of Gad - gimel, daled - hinting to the gomel dalim, has two aspects. The first is Tzephon, which in Hebrew means concealed, is a reference to the one who camouflages his act of giving. The second is Chagi, whose name is a derivative of the Hebrew word "chag," festival. His name refers to the one who gives tzedakah openly, conspicuously, for all to see and talk about. Since both names are derived from forms of the word charity, one might conjecture that they are equally in good standing. The Torah, however, places Tzephoni -- representing the inconspicuous donor who does not wish to call attention to himself - first, to teach us which one of these two forms of charity takes precedence over the other.

Moshe spoke to Hashem, saying, "May Hashem, G-d of the spirits, of all flesh, appoint a man over the Assembly, who shall go out before them. And come before them, who shall take them out and bring them in; and let the assembly of Hashem not be like sheep that have no shepherd. Hashem said to Moshe, "Take to yourself Yehoshua, son of Nun, a man in whom there is spirit. (27:16,17, 18,19)

Moshe Rabbeinu spoke to Hashem. He asked for a leader to succeed him in shepherding the Jewish People. Moshe did not simply ask; he more or less demanded a leader, so that the people should not be left alone as sheep without a shepherd. Moshe understood the nature of leadership. After all, he was the consummate leader. He knew that a leader must be patient; he must be able to be "sovel," tolerate/bear, the Jews. Moshe understood the people. He knew they could not be left alone, without guidance, without direction, without leadership. He could not leave this world until Hashem had named his successor. Ostensibly, Moshe could not pick his own successor. He felt himself to be incompetent for this selection. This act required Hashem himself, "b'chvodo u'batzmo," in His Glory. Hashem knew who could tolerate Klal Yisrael, who could patiently bear their burden, who could advise each individual Jew.

Horav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlita, explains that savlanus, patience, is not a simple character trait to master. Rashi comments on the pasuk in Bamidbar 12:3, "And the man Moshe was exceedingly humble." This means "shafel, v'savlan," humble and long-suffering. Moshe's patience was exemplary. He cites Horav Yerucham Levovitz, zl, who adds that Rashi does not mean that shafel v'savlan is the result of anivus, humility and long-suffering. Tolerance, patience, forbearance, equanimity - these are the qualities that comprise the middah, character trait, of anavah.

This was Moshe's request of Hashem. The people needed a leader who could be sovel, tolerate, each and every Jew. Moshe, the "anav mikol adam," the most humble/tolerant man on the earth, knew what he was asking. He continued by asking for a leader "who shall go out before them and come in before them." He then seems to repeat himself when he asks, "Who shall take them out and bring them in?" Why does he make this redundant request? Horav Solomon cites the Vilna Maggid, Rav Zalmen Leib, zl, who, in his eulogy for Rav Akiva Eiger, zl, said that there are leaders who lead by virtue of their "going out before them and coming in before them." Their total demeanor in the way they act, how they "go in and go out," serves as a paradigm for others to emulate. There is also another aspect of leadership: knowing how to "take people and bring them in;" the ability to advise people how to act, how to live. Moshe asked Hashem for a leader who was patient and tolerant, who would lead by example and who could advise on, and respond to, the problems facing each individual member of his flock. Klal Yisrael should not be left as sheep without a shepherd, because it was crucial that they have a leader that met the requisite criteria.

Hashem responded to Moshe with one name: Yehoshua, "ish asher ruach bo," a man in whom there is spirit. The Alter m'Novordok, zl, explained the key for finding the individual who fit the bill, who exemplified those areas of conduct, character refinement and aptitude, one who could succeed Moshe at the helm of the Jewish people. He was to look for someone who possessed "ruach bo," the one "in whom there is spirit." Only someone who has mastery over himself can inspire and lead others. The Jewish leader must first be able to lead himself before he can lead others.

Horav Solomon sums up his thesis on leadership, noting that Moshe Rabbeinu's prayer, "And let the assembly of G-d not be like sheep that have no shepherd," was not an appeal merely for that generation. Moshe Rabbeinu implored Hashem for every generation; Klal Yisrael should never be left bereft of leadership, a leadership that is "ish asher ruach bo." This is the criterion: We have to pray that we are worthy of it.


1) Who was Pinchas' maternal grandfather?
2) When was Pinchas officially inducted into the Kehunah?
3) Why was the decree only to destroy Midyan and not Moav?
4) Was there any member of Korach's assembly that repented?
5) How many men died in the plague following the sin with Baal Peor?
II. They were members of the tribe of _____________.
6) Which woman was blessed with incredible longevity?


1) Yisro.
2) After he slew Zimri.
3) Because of Rus, who was destined to emerge from Moav.
4) Yes, Korach's son.
5) A. 24,000.   B. Shimon. 6) Serach bas Asher.

Sponsored by
Moshe Shimon and Tibor Rosenberg
in memory of their father
Pinchas ben Shimon Rosenberg
Niftar 18 Tammuz 5719


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