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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


When he zealously avenged My vengeance among them. (25:11)

Defining the word kinah, jealousy, righteous indignation, Rashi writes, "Any form of the word kinah in the Torah refers to the individual who settles a score to avenge the vengeance of a matter." Rashi is teaching us a profound lesson. The fact that all of the references in the Torah to the word kinah refer to vengeance, settling a score, implies that even when one person is jealous of another, when one neighbor has a nicer car than another, it is not just simple jealousy; rather, it is vengeance. How are we to understand this? What did my neighbor do to me that I would want to take vengeance? If anything, a person feels hurt, he feels pain, that he does not have what his neighbor has. How is this hurt transformed into vengeance?

Horav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlita, posits that in order to understand Rashi's comment, it is necessary to delve into the human psyche, to examine the nature of an individual who is envious of another person. What motivates this jealousy, and how does it reach the point of envy?

First, we must take into account the anomaly that seems to stand out concerning the character trait of jealousy. In regard to every other form of lust or craving, one seeks gratification of this urge. If he does not receive this pleasure, he is disturbed. His distress, however, only concerns the pleasure which he did not obtain. As soon as this pleasure is availed to him, his mood reverts to its original state. Not so in regard to the character trait of jealousy. When one is jealous of someone for something that he possesses, the focus of his envy immediately transfers from the object he desires to the person who possesses it. He begins to envy and then hate him - even after he has also acquired the same object. He might now own the object, but the hatred that preceded this ownership is still dominant.

In other words, a number of steps establish the foundation of jealousy. First, one observes an object in someone else's possession for which he has a desire. He says to himself, "My friend has something that I do not have." Second, he says, "I also deserve such an item. He is no better than I." In the third step, he feels that, indeed, he is more deserving than his friend to own the item in question. Now that he feels that he is more deserving of ownership than his friend, he begins to imagine that, in truth, this object should have been his in the first place. He now wonders, "What is he doing with my object?" Finally, he gets carried away by his imagination and becomes angry that his friend "stole" his object. "What he has is really mine!" He now becomes enraged at the individual who "used to be his friend" and seeks vengeance - from him. This is the meaning of Rashi's statement: the word kinah, commonly translated as jealousy, contains in it an overpowering component of vengeance. This is human nature.

Horav Solomon notes that, regrettably, the nature of many people is to be contentious and vengeful throughout their lives. They want to be on top; they seek public acclaim. If someone else receives the public recognition they feel belongs to them, they become agitated and distressed. This leads to lashon hora, disparaging speech and slander. This is their revenge. This soothes their anger. Not only do they speak lashon hora, they want to listen to it - anything, as long as it belittles and disgraces the individual who is the subject of their envy. Envy is the root of lashon hora.

This is not a new phenomenon. There is nothing novel about this thesis. Probably, the only novel element about it is that someone had the courage to state it, to focus upon an ill that plagues our society. Jealousy, hatred, slander, vengeance - all are expressed because our friend has something that we would also like to have. It never enters our mind that perhaps we do not deserve it, or that we did not work hard enough for it. No one ever looks at it this way. We always feel that everything either belongs, or should belong, to us. If someone else has what we feel we should have had, then they must have taken what is ours!

Is there a cure for the disease called envy? Orchos Chaim l'HaRosh writes that envy is a sickness for which there is no cure. Mesillas Yesharim writes that envy is the result of ignorance and foolish thinking. The envious person gains nothing; the person whom he envies loses nothing; the only one who loses out is the one who envies. Envy is particularly severe if one sees a competitor being successful. Envy is lethal; it is irrational. That fact does not seem to stop anybody.

The Ohr Yechezkel explains the seriousness of the ailment called envy by explaining that the individual does not realize that he is sick. The envy eats at him until he becomes filled with hatred. Is there no hope? There is one chance for a cure - emunah, faith in the Almighty. If a person infuses himself with the idea that whatever he will ever have is from Hashem and that no one can ever take away from him what is rightfully his, he will be cured of envy. Indeed, one who is envious of another person is, as Horav Chaim Vital zl, says, a moreid b'Hashem, one who rebels against the Almighty. He challenges Hashem's decision concerning who should have and who should not have. The Rambam writes that in the days of Moshiach there will be no wars, no hunger, no jealousy and no envy. There will be an abundance of good, and people will lack nothing. They will be involved in only one endeavor: to know Hashem, to develop a deeper knowledge of His greatness. How interesting it is, says Horav Solomon, that the only tikun, improvement, needed in the hearts of the Jewish people to bring about a period in which we will warrant that the world will be filled with a profound knowledge of the Almighty is to abrogate envy from our midst. Unfortunately, this "only thing" seems to keep eluding us.

And it shall be for him and his offspring after him a covenant of eternal priesthood, because he took vengeance for his G-d, and he atoned for the Bnei Yisrael. (25:13)

It is a well-known maxim that Hashem remunerates middah k'neged middah, measure for measure. This pasuk raises many questions. First, what is the relationship between Pinchas' act of zealousness and the blessing of eternal priesthood for his descendants? Second, when the Torah says "Pinchas saw," it seems to imply that Pinchas saw what no one else saw. Were they not all there to witness the dastardly act committed by Zimri? The previous Gerrer Rebbe, Horav Pinchas Menachem Alter zl, cites the Baal Shem Tov, who relates in the name of the Arizal, that Hashem shows a person only that which relates to him - either positively or negatively. Indeed, when the famous tzaddik Horav Zushe, zl m'Annipole, observed someone acting in a sinful manner, he would exclaim, "Oy Zushe, the sinner, oy Zushe, the sinner." In other words, he felt that Hashem was conveying a message to himself: if he saw a sin, then he himself was somehow tainted in that area. When the sinner heared Rav Zushe make such a startling statement, he realized that he should repent.

When Pinchas saw Zimri's immoral act, he wondered why he was witnessing it. He introspected into his own behavior and concluded that Hashem was not talking to him. He surmised that Hashem wanted him to see this act, so that he would react zealously and avenge the honor of Hashem and Klal Yisrael. Pinchas saw the Shechinah distancing Itself from Klal Yisrael. He acted immediately. Pinchas added kedushah, holiness, to the Jewish People.

He was not a Kohen, by design, so that he could receive his due. For contributing to the Jewish People's spiritual ascendancy, for adding kedushah, he was rewarded with additional kedushah for his descendants. Pinchas noticed a void, and he immediately filled it. This occurs in numerous instances in our lives, but as the old adage goes, "Some people make things happen, while others just stand there wondering what happened."

Harass the Midyanim and smite them. (25:17)

Hashem commanded Moshe Rabbeinu to do battle with Midyan because of that nation's malicious attempt to destroy Klal Yisrael's spiritual standing. Their attempt to corrupt the Jewish People warranted their destruction. This punishment is different than that which was meted out against the Egyptians. The Torah in Sefer Devarim 23:8 insists that the Egyptians not be rejected. Is this equitable? One would think that the nation that tried so hard to destroy us physically would deserve a more severe punishment than the Midyanim, who "merely" attempted to corrupt us. Chazal have a different perspective than we have. They view a spiritual threat as having greater significance, and potentially being more harmful, than the physical threat of the Egyptians. True, the Egyptians ruthlessly enslaved our People and cruelly killed our newborn infants. Yet, they are not to be totally rejected, because a physical threat - as painful as it may be - will not destroy our People. We have survived physical danger. A threat to our moral/spiritual future threatens the very essence of Klal Yisrael. We are a nation whose uniqueness is our moral fiber, our spiritual essence. To corrupt these virtues is to destroy Hashem's nation.

The Torah's perspective is different than that to which we have become accustomed to in contemporary society. Some of us think that while spirituality is definitely a primary component of life, along with other major ingredients, it does not yet comprise the major component in life. Our Torah - and, by extension, our entire religion - teaches us that spirituality comprises life. Indeed, it was necessary for the Torah to emphasize that one should transgress a mitzvah if one's life is in danger. Otherwise, one might have conjectured that martyrdom is required whenever there is a danger to one's spiritual dimension. This is true in the case of the three cardinal sins: idolatry, murder and adultery. These sins totally ravage one's spirit. In these cases life is not worth living, since the potential for spirituality has been so severely compromised.

We have to ask ourselves if we can integrate this crucial idea into our lives. We take every precaution to protect and enhance our physical welfare. Do we do the same for our spiritual well-being? We set up safeguards to eliminate any serious threat to our health. Are we just as careful in setting up a similar bulwark to avoid incursions that diminish our spirituality? We are bombarded daily by the perverse media. The mass media of today reflects the moral degradation of contemporary society. They communicate both graphically and verbally the ills that plague society - of course, presenting it all in a matter-of-fact manner, as if this is the standard of the way people live. While this might be the norm for the rest of the world, for us it is utter revulsion and an insult to us as human beings, particularly as Hashem's Nation. Do we protect our children and ourselves from the onslaught of today's media? Do we take as many precautions to protect our children from exposure to this mortal threat to our spirituality as we would if it endangered their physical well-being?

Regrettably, the contemporary parent, the observant included, tends to rationalize permitting his children's exposure to objectionable material. He wants his child to get a feel for the "real world." They should not be sheltered or raised in a vacuum. All of these statements are lame excuses for ineffective parenting. The parent would not expose his child to a communicable disease, or radiation, or some of the physical ills of today's counterculture. Why is their child's spiritual safety any less important? The answer is that the parent unfortunately places greater value on the child's physical well-being than on their spiritual health. It is, therefore, no wonder that these children grow up into physically healthy, spiritually deficient, adults.

He (Moshe) took Yehoshua and stood him before Elazar the Kohen and before the entire assembly. (27:22)

The Yalkut describes the scene in which Yehoshua was "handed over" to the assembly, as Moshe Rabbeinu presented his successor to the nation. Moshe and the people lifted their heads to listen to Yehoshua. What did Yehoshua say? He said, "Blessed is Hashem Who gave the Torah to His Nation, Yisrael, through Moshe Rabbeinu." We all know that a leader's inauguration address sets the tone for his administration. His remarks are carefully weighed and articulated in the best possible manner. Ostensibly, Yehoshua was no different. He meticulously prepared his first major address, his acceptance speech, with care and deliberation. Why did he choose to include the fact that the Torah was given to Klal Yisrael through Moshe? He is about to commence a new reign. He is the new leader. Should he not emphasize his plans and aspirations for his leadership of the people?

In addressing this question, the Kesav Sofer first focuses on the distinction between Moshe and Yehoshua, noting their disparate approaches towards assuming the mantle of leadership. When Hashem first asked Moshe to lead the Jewish People, Moshe refused to accept the honor. Seven days went by, and each time Moshe told Hashem, "I am not worthy; I am not the appropriate person for the position." We should expect at least the same from Yehoshua. Should not the disciple follow in the footsteps of his great mentor? Yet, we find nowhere written that Yehoshua spurned the opportunity to become Klal Yisrael's leader. Why? Was Yehoshua any better qualified or suited for the position?

We assert that Moshe's position, his function as leader, was of a different nature than that of Yehoshua.

Chazal draw the distinction between the two leaders when they state, "Moshe's face is like the sun, while Yehoshua's face is like the moon." "Chazal are teaching a significant lesson," says the Kesav Sofer. When Moshe conceded to the power, he found nothing prepared. Klal Yisrael, as a nation, was at best a figment of the imagination. Moshe's leadership, his unique personality and sterling character, his ability to inspire and to infuse the people with Torah values and guide them towards observance, set the stage. Moshe was able to build, to create "yeish me'ayin," ex nihilo, something from nothing. Moshe was like the sun that illuminates with its own light. It does not draw its power from another source. It is the source. Moshe felt himself unworthy of this daunting position. He, therefore, rejected it.

Yehoshua, on the other hand, did not have such a tall order. He discovered a nation whose exposure to the Revelation of the Almighty was unprecedented. They were organized, complete and orderly, each man in his camp by his flag. Every Jew knew his place and what was demanded of him. Yehoshua's function was similar to that of the moon: to continue the sun's light; to carry it forth; to spread its illumination; to maintain its brilliance. This is how Yehoshua would lead the nation: he would carry; he would maintain his rebbe, Moshe's, legacy.

Yehoshua had no reason to defer. Nothing was expected of him that he could not achieve. This is what Yehoshua sought to emphasize when he related that Hashem gave the Torah to Klal Yisrael through Moshe Rabbeinu. Yehoshua was telling them, "I do not intend to innovate. I will not append or amend the Torah that Hashem gave you through Moshe. My only purpose is to maintain, to guard that what was will continue, to see to it that the Torah that was given through Moshe will spread forth through all of Klal Yisrael." Indeed, this is the function of every leader, to maintain the heritage, to continue the legacy of the past, so that there will be a viable future.

Vignettes on the Parsha

Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon HaKohen. (25:11)

In response to the tribes who were humiliating Pinchas, the Torah traces his ancestry to Aharon, saying, "Did you see this son of Puti, whose mother's father, Yisro, fattened calves for idolatry, yet, he killed a Nasi, Prince?" Bircas Yosef interprets their scorn. They said, "Your grandfather was not satisfied with simply sacrificing calves; he had to have fattened ones. You, too, have to go all out and kill a Nasi to prove your point.


Behold! I give him My covenant of peace. (25:12)

The Kotzker Rebbe zl, said, "Peace is not the result of compromise. It is rather the result of confronting challenge, responding to adversity and triumphing over it."v ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For they antagonized you through their conspiracy. (25:18)

Horav Elimelech zl, m'Lishensk interprets "nichleihem" as "alien thoughts." Midyan became our enemy by inculcating our minds with thoughts that are alien to our holy goals. They contaminated our minds. Had we picked some bad habits or evil actions, it could have been corrected. Destroying the mind, robbing us of our ability to think correctly and objectively, is an unforgivable sin.


But the sons of Korach did not die. (26:11)

The sons of Korach, those who follow after him, who are first and foremost in controversy in every community, continue to plague us to this very day.

Herschel and Debby Berger
In honor of the Bar Mitzvah
of their son


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