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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon HaKohen turned back My wrath from upon the Bnei Yisrael. (25:11)

Who was Pinchas, and why was he selected for the distinct honor of receiving the covenant of peace from Hashem? When one considers that it was Moshe Rabbeinu who stood at the front line during the incident of the Golden Calf and that Aharon came forward during the Korach rebellion, it is surprising that they were not accorded any special "thank you" for their efforts, while Pinchas achieved great distinction for his actions. Horav Zalman Sorotzkin, zl, attributes this to the unique subtlety of Pinchas' personal history. When we think about it, until this very moment, we had not heard from, or about, Pinchas. When the Kohanim were anointed, he was not included. When the Princes of Shevet Levi were enumerated, he was not included. Pinchas happened to be a simple, common Jew, just doing his job and maintaining his spiritual well-being. Until this point, he had not excelled in any area. He was not outstanding - just a common Jew. Therefore, when he took a stand for the honor of Heaven, at a time when Moshe and Aharon and Klal Yisrael's leadership had been frozen, it was an act of great significance. A simple Jew saw the travesty of an insolent Prince of the tribe of Shimon denigrating Hashem's name, while no one was taking a stand to react to him. He felt the imperative to act in response.

Surely Pinchas' inclination attempted to dissuade him. "Why you? The entire Jewish leadership is there. Let them react. Who are you to dare to make such a move against a Prince of Yisrael?" Pinchas, however, was not deterred. He saw what had to be done, and he acted accordingly. This is perhaps why Pinchas is spelled with an added small yud- to emphasize that, until this point, Pinchas had been a small, simple Jew of whom no one had heard. This is what distinguished him from anyone else: his simplicity, his personal insignificance. To come from nowhere and act as he did merits the reward that he received.

We can derive a powerful lesson from here. How many of us "put our money" on the brightest student, the most charismatic student, the "loudest" student - only to be wrong? Let us look around, and we will notice the quiet one who subtly remained at the back of the line, who did not seek all of the fanfare, who diligently plugged away quietly and, with determination, made it to the forefront of leadership of the Jewish community - everywhere. Let Pinchas serve as a lesson for all of us: Let no child be left behind. Let no child be ignored. The student in the back might be our rav, our rosh yeshivah, our lay leader one day.

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

Rashi explains this pasuk to mean: when he avenged that which had to be avenged for Me, when he expressed the rage with which I should have been enraged. He adds that any form of the word kinah, jealousy, refers to one who settles a score, to avenge the vengeance of a matter. This is a great chidush, novel idea. Every act of jealousy is an act of vengeance. While this is understood in circumstances surrounding a zealous outburst, as was evinced by Pinchas, how does this fit in under "normal" circumstances of jealousy? One is jealous because he envies the other person or his possessions. How is this connected to revenge?

Horav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlita, explains that Rashi is revealing to us an important principle concerning the kochos ha'nefesh, human nature, of a person. What causes a person to envy his fellow? When we think about it, we realize that kinah, jealousy, is a strange character trait. Other character traits are motivated by desire and passion, a deep inclination for something that is often out of bounds. This passion is powerful and conjures up images of success as if the person has consummated his desire. Jealousy, however, is a sense of pain and misery for something that one does not have. The greater the envy, the stronger is one's pain. Yet, this pain does not deter him from increasing his jealousy.

This envy does not develop overnight. It is a gradual process that seethes as long as the individual sees his friend achieve success or increase his possessions. At first, it does not bother him. Until now, he had no need for this possession. After awhile he says, "Why not me? I also want such a possession or to achieve this success." Then it begins to gnaw at him. He no longer would like to have it; now, he must have it. After all, he deserves it more than his fellow. It gets to the point that he begins to feel that his friend took it from him. His friend has what rightfully belongs to him. He is a ganov, thief! He begins to feel justified in taking nekamah, exacting vengeance, against the individual for taking what is rightfully his.

Kinah, is thus, an emotion, a feeling that does not allow one to tolerate what his friend possesses, or the success that he has achieved. It is rightfully his, and his friend stole it from him! Jealousy is not focused upon the possession, for even when an individual succeeds in having his desire achieve fruition, and he has in his possession the item that he had so badly desired, he is still not calmed; he is still not happy. He hates the person who had it; he wants to take revenge on him. He took what belonged to him! Envy does not make sense. Yet, it destroys a person and drives him to act in the most perverse manner to satisfy his desire for vengeance.

How does one save himself from falling into the abyss of envy, from falling prey to the self destructive attitude it generates? Rav Matisyahu feels the only way one can save himself from this destructive trait is by developing a sense of histapkus, contentment and satisfaction, with life in general and everyday challenges in particular. One whose ayin ra, evil eye, dominates his vision, creating a myopia in which everything he sees is negative and jaundiced, will fall prey to kinah. He will always think that what his friend possesses should really be his. The mistapek, one who is always satisfied, has no worries. He is not missing anything. Whatever he possesses is what he needs, and what he does not have, he obviously does not need. Otherwise, Hashem would have provided him with it. Thus, he has no reason to view his fellow's possessions or success through a spectrum of resentment and spite. He is content with what he has and pleased for his friend for what he has achieved.

The Mashgiach substantiates this with a pasuk in Bereishis 41:12, where Rashi -- in his interpretation of the description of the healthy cows in Pharaoh's dream -- says, "Yefos mareh," beautiful appearance. This is a sign of good times, days of plenty, when people look favorably upon one another. It is axiomatic that, although greed is rooted in human nature, people are less likely to resent one another during times of prosperity and when everyone is prosperous. Let us think for a moment . If we were to ask anyone, "What is the symbol of years of plenty," the answer probably would be, brios basar, healthy of flesh, when the animal appears satiated and well-fed. Yefos mareh, beautiful appearance, implying a content appearance, is not necessarily the first thing for which one looks. Rashi is, therefore, telling us that a well-fed animal does not imply that times are good. Perhaps the owner has money, and he is able to purchase the necessary foods on the black market. It is only when people are not envious of each other, contentment and satisfaction reign, when no individual feels that he is losing out because of someone else, when everyone has an ayin tovah, good eye, are we living in good times.

The bitterness and resentment that we cause ourselves as a result of our lack of histapkus is, at times, overwhelming. It destroys lives and families. People feel inadequate and dissatisfied; they complain about everything and everybody. Probably the greatest loss from such an attitude is the loss of opportunity. One could do so much for others if he would only refrain from wallowing in bitterness. By doing good, one feels good, and, by feeling good, one views everything in a positive light. Why not try it?

The mantle of kanaus, true zealousness, is one that must be earned. While many have attempted to place this crown on their heads, only the few and the sincere are truly deserving of this exalted position. One of those unique individuals who fought for truth and morality, dedicated to the Torah way, was the Brisker Rav, zl. When he felt that the issue regarding autopsies and the desecration of graves in Eretz Yisrael was becoming a public travesty, he came to the fore in leading the battle to protect this sacrilege. Piles of bones that had been dug up during archaeological digs were thrown away as refuse after the laboratories were finished with them. It is beyond the scope of this paper to outline the horror and indecency that was perpetrated in the name of science, sanctioned by the secular government. Indeed, even after long years of protests and demonstrations, followed by diplomatic maneuvering, significant numbers of bones remain unburied to this very day.

In 1956, the archaeologists began digging up the graves of Tanaim and Amoraim in Beit Shearim. They also desecrated graves in the ancient Teveria cemetery near to the grave of the Rambam. This profanity prompted the Brisker Rav to spearhead a campaign against the excavations. He called together the sages and leaders of Yerushalayim for a meeting. They signed a statement prohibiting these excavations, warning the populace of the grave sin of not complying with the demands of the Torah. The Brisker Rav cried bitterly while writing and signing this statement. His daughter later bemoaned the fact that none of those who were to read the proclamation would be aware of his copious tears. That night the Brisker Rav could not sleep. His son, Rav Raphael, zl, noticed that in the morning his pillow was drenched with tears. His father had cried all night.

There is so much more to write about the Brisker Rav's battles to maintain the moral purity of our Holy Land. I am recording this episode to demonstrate true kanaus. The Brisker Rav cried in response to the tragedy of chillul Hashem, desecration of Hashem's Name. The Brisker Rav cried because of the actions that he was obligated to take. The Brisker Rav was mekaneh for Hashem, but he cried the entire time! It was not something he wanted to do. It was something he felt he had to do. That is the difference between those who are kanaim and those who are rabble rousers, slanderers, who, in the name of zealousness, have no compunction about destroying innocent lives.

Zealousness can turn ugly, especially when one is motivated by inappropriate impulses. When one does not act with the Torah as his guide, with the fear and trepidation that was demonstrated by the Brisker Rav's tears, he acts instead with malicious arrogance, with one purpose in mind - to hurt and destroy anybody who stands in his way. How many of us can say that our motives are pure, that they are free of any vestige of personal aggrandizement and self-serving objectives? There are many reasons today for one to raise the banner of zealous offensive against some of the injustices that have been perpetrated within the Jewish community. Whistle blowing that achieves nothing more than defamation of character, exhuming the dead for the purpose of burying them once again, destroying one's descendants because of the sins of the fathers, is not zealousness. It is murder.

And the name of the slain woman was Kasbi bas Tzur, he was head of peoples/ (25:15)

Later on, in (31:18), we read that Midyan had five kings. Tzur was the most prominent of them all, as he is referred to here as rosh umos, head of peoples. There, however, he is counted as third. Rashi explains that since he debased himself by allowing his daughter to participate in harlotry, the Torah lists him as third. Does this really make a difference? He is either the head or he is not. Just because the Torah lists him as third does not detract from the esteem in which he was held in the eyes of the Midyanites. Veritably, he was still the head. As far as he was concerned, that is all that counts. Horav Shimshon Chaim Nachmeini, zl, in his sefer, Zera Shimshon, explains that a person merits monarchy for one of three reasons: he is in the family, descending from kings and princes; he is especially wise and intelligent, rendering him a prime candidate for guiding the country successfully; he is extremely wealthy, able to purchase the position, as did Achashveirosh.

Clearly, the individual who ascends to the throne as a result of his purchasing power will not be as respected as one who earns the position through pedigree or astuteness. At first, Tzur had it all. He had family, as he was a descendant of the previous monarchs. He was also a smart man, eminently capable of guiding the country. Wealth was also no drawback, since he had no shortage of funds. It all changed, however, when he foolishly denigrated his daughter and, consequently, himself. His hatred of the Jews destroyed his ability to think rationally. He was still king because he retained his wealth, but the honor that was originally his was no longer. His actions deprived him of his honor after what he had done. He was king only due to the third reason - money. Thus, he is listed third in the order of monarchs.

Smart people sometimes act foolishly, often out of anger or fear. While they may still retain their position of power, they no longer earn the respect of the people. Leadership demands respect, but it is a response that one must constantly earn and one of which he must be worthy. It just takes one foolish move, one deference to the yetzer hora, evil inclination, to destroy so much for which one has worked. It would be so much more beneficial if we would just stop to think for a moment concerning the ramifications of our actions. It might save us and our families so much heartache.

May Hashem G-d of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the assembly…who shall go out together, and come in before them, who shall take them out and who shall bring them in; and let the assembly of Hashem not be like sheep that have no shepherd. (27:16,17)

Hashem had told Moshe Rabbeinu that he was not going to enter Eretz Yisrael. He turned to the Almighty to request a replacement, someone who would assume the mantle of leadership. This was not a simple request. As Rashi comments, Moshe said to Hashem, "Master of the world! The personality of each individual is revealed before You, and they do not resemble each other. Appoint a leader who can put up with each individual according to his personality." The Berdichever Rebbe, zl, says in his inimitable manner, "Select a leader that will always be melamed z'chus, find merit and seek to justify the people's actions, just as You, Hashem, always finds a positive side to our actions."

In his Derashos El Ami, Horav Amiel, zl, writes that a leader does not necessarily have to find favor in the eyes of the people. Leadership is not a popularity contest. He need not concern himself with the psychosis of the people. He must lead, and they must follow, otherwise, he will end up following the people. The leader must be in front of the people - not behind them.

"Who shall take them out and who shall bring them in." A leader must not only lead in time of war. He must know when to take them out of the environment of battle and bring them back to peaceful life. The battlefield is filled with blood that is spilled often carelessly and needlessly. This plays havoc on one's emotions. A leader must know how to guide his people back and teach them how to appreciate and live peacefully together. All too often, soldiers bring the battle back home with them, suffering from various syndromes and emotional outbursts. A leader must help his people adjust to an orderly, normal life-- or else it is as if he has lost them on the battlefield.

A community is composed of many individuals with distinct personalities and a multiplicity of family, personal and economic issues. A leader must remain focused on the diversity of his community, on the needs of the young versus the old, the wealthy versus those facing economic challenges and the multiformity of religious observance - both real and imaginary. Everybody needs his leader, usually at the most inconvenient times. That is the essence of leadership.

A leader must "take them out and bring them in." He should not contend that they are his responsibility in shul, but what they do outside of the boundaries of the synagogue is of no concern to him. He must take them out and care about their lives outside of the confines of the halls of prayer. We must also bring them back in, seeing to it that what is picked up outside of the community stays outside and its influence not be allowed to penetrate the sanctity of the community. Above all, the leader must care about the needs of every member of his community, even if they are imaginary. To ignore a person's perceived needs is to ignore the person.

Va'ani Tefillah

Keil nekamos Hashem, Keil nekamos hofia. Hinasei, Shofet ha'aretz, hashev g'mul al geim.

O G-d of vengeance, Hashem, O' G-d of vengeance appear! Arise, O'Judge of the earth, render recompense to the haughty.

Recompense and revenge are strong terms which apply only to Hashem. Man does not take revenge. Human vengeance is prohibited. Vengeance for Hashem, however, is not only right, it is necessary. Chazal teach us that "G-d's vengeance (His punishment of the wicked) is severe, for the word 'revenge' is preceded and followed by Hashem's Names." The word, nekamah, vengeance, appears between "Keil" and "Hashem," two Names of Hashem. Why is vengeance so important? How will it correct the wrong and the evil that has already been perpetrated? Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, explains that the word nekamah, which is usually translated as revenge, actually means to rectify a wrong that has been committed. When evil is perpetrated, it is like a train that becomes derailed. The world goes awry and must now be put back on track. The "why" it occurred and the "how" it will be rectified is beyond the grasp of human understanding. This is for Hashem to do. We pray that He avenge the evil that has been committed against us, so that not a single drop of Jewish blood goes unavenged. We ask that He appear, and let us see how this is executed, how the wrongs will be righted, how the many tragedies, pogroms, and holocausts that His people has endured will be avenged.

Perhaps, we may add that when we understand how every occurrence has its place in the historical continuum of our People, we will begin to realize that what we have perceived as evil and bad was actually good. Our enemies who reveled in the evil they committed against us will realize that it was actually good, so that they have been inadvertent tools for our good fortune. That will be our ultimate revenge.

In loving memory of
Jeremy Alan Handler
Yaakov Avraham z"l ben Azarya Binyomin hy"v
niftar 19 Tammuz 5766
by the
Handler Family

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

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