Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon HaKohen, turned back My wrath from upon Bnei Yisrael when he zealously avenged Me among them. (25:11)

Rashi explains that the tribes jeered at Pinchas, saying, "Have you seen that ben Puti, whose mother's father fattened calves for idolatry, yet, has killed a prince of the tribe of Yisrael?" The Torah, therefore, declares that his lineage descends from Aharon HaKohen. This is a remarkable statement. After all, even if Pinchas' mother was Yisro's daughter, his father was still Aharon's son. If, despite all of this, the people decided to ignore his father's lineage and focus only on that of his mother, what does the Torah accomplish by delineating his father's pedigree? It was his mother's ancestry that they were mocking.

Horav Meir Bergman, Shlita, quotes the following explanation. When Klal Yisrael observed Pinchas commit what seemed to be an act of wanton murder, their immediate reaction was that the ability to act in such an appalling manner could only have been inherited from his mother's family. As former idolaters, their family was surely tainted by various degrees of bloodshed. Murder was in Pinchas' DNA from birth. Clearly, it could not have been a family trait from his father's side of the family. Surely, the grandson of an individual who was the quintessential oheiv shalom v'rodef shalom, "loved peace and pursued peace," would not be capable of committing such a heinous crime. His mother's side had to be the source of his corruption.

The Torah responds to this accusation by asserting Pinchas' lineage and tracing it to Aharon HaKohen. The Torah's message is: There is no taint from either side. In fact, his father's side specifically contributed the qualities that empowered him to slay Zimri. In a tradition attributed to the Chasam Sofer, it is suggested that when Chazal describe Aharon as one who "loved peace and pursued peace," they mean that, at times, if one seeks to achieve peace, the only option he may have is to pursue it, like a rodef, with fury and intent, in hot pursuit of his intended victim. Indeed, there are instances in which only the antithesis of peace catalyzes peace.

This is consistent with Chazal's statement in Sanhedrin 71b, "Dispersion, when it relates to the wicked, is good for them and good for the world." This is the case, because when they disperse, they cannot take evil counsel together and help each other. Thus, they are prevented from continuing in their sinful behavior. It is good for the world, because peace and quiet reign supreme.

When Yaakov Avinu left this world, he requested that his name not be mentioned in connection with Zimri's sin and the rebellion of Korach. These two descendants of the tribes of Shimon and Levi, respectively, do not reflect positively on the Patriarch, Yaakov. They are, however, linked to Shimon and Levi. Yaakov sought to emphasize that the violence that Shimon and Levi exhibited when they killed the men of Shechem was not a product of the spiritual heritage he bequeathed to his children. They had developed this reaction on their own, as a part of their relationship with one another. The rage which prompted them to destroy a city was not an attribute they inherited from Yaakov.

This very idea begs elucidation. Why is Zimri's ancestry traced to Shimon? Did he learn his degeneracy from Shimon? Indeed, the Midrash notes the glaring disparity between the act of immorality committed by the grandson, Zimri, and Shimon's zealousness against immorality. Chazal referred to Zimri as an individual who breaks down the fence which his father has erected.

Something is not right. On one hand, his ancestry from Shimon is a reason to censure Zimri. On the other hand, however, we just indicated that the mention of a grandfather indicates the ancestor's motivating effect on the actions of his descendant. Is Shimon in some way responsible for Zimri's immorality, while simultaneously serving as an example for him to emulate? How are we to reconcile these two disparate ideas?

Rav Bergman explains why the Torah records Shimon as Zimri's ancestor, although Zimri's action was in total contrast with Shimon's own conduct as was evinced by his zealous response to immorality. When we analyze Zimri's actions, we note two mutinous infractions. Zimri did not just go off to a side to commit his repulsive act in private. No! In a shocking act of brazenness, he took his paramour and brought her directly before Moshe Rabbeinu and the elders at the Ohel Moed, declaring, "Moshe! Is this one forbidden or permitted? And if you say 'forbidden,' then who permitted Yisro's daughter to you?"

This was chutzpah at its nadir. He committed an act of immorality and compounded it by denigrating the gadol hador, leader of the generation! It was this second act of impropriety that might have its murky roots in an earlier indiscretion on the part of his ancestor, Shimon. When the two brothers zealously waged war for the sake of maintaining the moral purity of their family, they erred in one area: they did not consult with their father, the Patriarch Yaakov. They should have asked daas Torah, the wisdom of Torah, before entering into a decision that would have such enormous ramifications. When someone of Yaakov's caliber is available, we ask. We do not act on our own. Indeed, Pinchas approached Moshe before acting zealously. It was only after Moshe agreed with the halachah that Pinchas moved to eradicate the evil. He demonstrated a respect for propriety and, thus, was able to portray a shining example of acting with devotion to carry out the will of Hashem. He displayed no act of personal ostentation, no desire to achieve personal praise or fame. He simply acted as Hashem required him to act - without other motivation or embellishment.

It happens. We think that we are acting appropriately, that we are doing exactly what is expected of us, and, without realizing, a scintilla of the yetzer hora, evil-inclination, invades our behavior, destroying the purity of even the best of deeds. The novelty is, if the yetzer hora creeps in, it is reason enough to compare this deed to the worst of deeds. Why? Because when a deed of righteousness is admixed with the yetzer hora, it distorts the deed's legacy, creating a future effect that might go in either direction: good or bad. Both elements can find their expression in one's descendants. Zimri is held accountable for not following in the lofty ways of his ancestor, Shimon. On the other hand, the egotism and belligerence manifested by Zimri is attributed to a tinge of impropriety on the part of Shimon.

Reuven, the first born of Yisrael - the sons of Reuven: of Chanoch, the Chanochi Family: of Palu, the Pallui family. (26:5)

Moshe Rabbeinu and Elazar conducted a census following the plague that decimated 24,000 Jews as punishment for their illicit behavior with the Moavite and Midyanite women. Interestingly, in listing the names of the families, the Torah adds two letters to each surname - a yud and a hay. Each family's name is preceded with a hay and followed by a yud at the end of the name. The only family in which this did not occur was Yimnah, who already had these two letters as part of his name. Rashi comments that these letters together comprise Hashem's Name - Yud, Kay- thereby alluding to Hashem's testament on behalf of the moral purity of Klal Yisrael.

One wonders about the need to bear testimony. The Midrash Shir HaShirim explains that the nations of the world mocked us, asking, "How could the Jews trace their pedigree according to their tribes?" The Egyptians controlled the Jewish bodies through the physical bondage that they imposed upon them. Certainly, they were able to violate their wives as well! To circumvent this disparagement of the Jewish People, Hashem testified to the veracity of their lineage by appending His Holy Name to theirs. This was sort of a public declaration: "The Jews are morally chaste and pure."

In Rabbi Sholom Smith's latest anthology of the Rosh Yeshivah's shmuessen, ethical discourses, Horav Avraham Pam, zl cites Chazal in the Talmud Sotah 11b, who say that Klal Yisrael was redeemed from Egypt in the z'chus, merit, of the nashim tzidkaniyos, righteous women, of that generation. He, therefore, suggests that this is the reason that Hashem's Name, which is usually spelled with the yud preceding the hay, is, in this case, reversed. Since the purpose of these added letters is to attest to the moral purity of the nation which is the direct result of the exalted level of the righteous women of that generation, it makes sense that the letters be reversed. Since the hay alludes to ishah, woman, and the yud alludes to ish, man, as noted in the Talmud Sotah 17a, the letter hay should precede yud.

The question that confronts us is: From where did the men and women of that generation derive the moral strength to defy all odds to refuse to defer to the constant temptations, to the almost ceaseless assault on their defenses, in a country that was known for its moral depravity, in a land where immorality and licentiousness was a way of life? The Rosh Yeshivah cites the Midrash in Vayikra that attributes their strength of character to two individuals who preceded them: Sarah Imeinu and Yosef HaTzaddik. When Avraham and Sarah descended to Egypt, Sarah protected her purity despite the fact that she was unwillingly taken into Pharaoh's palace. She maintained her moral stamina and withstood the challenge.

Yosef was a young teenager when he was forcibly taken from his home and thrust into the spiritual filth of Egypt. Most boys his age-- and even adults-- crumble under the blandishments to their inclination. The assault on their moral defenses would be too compelling for even a "seasoned" adult, let alone a young impressionable boy. Yet, Yosef prevailed, despite constant inveiglement of a master seductress who even felt she was motivated by a feeling of l'shem Shomayim, acting for the sake of Heaven. It took superhuman strength, but he triumphed at the very last moment when a vision of his saintly father appeared to him, warning him that the momentous privileges of having his name engraved on the Kohen Gadol's Choshen, Breastplate, would be revoked, if he gave into the woman's enticements. This encouraged Yosef to prevail, emerging victorious in his battle with the yetzer hora, evil-inclination. This refusal earned Yosef the appellation of tzaddik, righteous one, a title which is as uncommon as the people who earn it.

Chazal teach us that the moral distinctions which Sarah and Yosef earned were not only privileges that they earned for themselves, but they became a spiritual bequest for their descendants. As a result of this, the entire Jewish nation was able to withstand-- and triumph-- over the Egyptian onslaught on their morals.

When our ancestors prevailed over their adversaries, either individuals or circumstances, their victory comprised more than a personal conquest. Their ability to overcome these challenges planted seeds in the soil of the Jewish nation which transformed their DNA, giving them and their descendants a similar ability to overcome the myriad challenges to their faith which they have encountered throughout the millennia.

Rav Pam cites Horav Elazar M. Shach, zl, who would often relate the episode of a group of Jews being led to the gas chambers at Auschwitz. The last thing that any of them would think about was the fact that it was Simchas Torah. Yet, one of the group exclaimed, "Yidden, today is Simchas Torah! The Nazis have taken everything from us. We have no seforim, Torah volumes, and no Sifrei Torah, Torah scrolls. There is only one thing, however, they cannot take from us: Hashem. Come let us dance with the Ribono Shel Olam Himself!" This was their goodbye to each other and to this ephemeral world, as they were led away, dancing with superhuman joy, into the gas chambers.

These were not roshei yeshivah, nor were they rabbanim or Torah scholars. They were simple, believing Jews. From where did they derive the fortitude, the unbelievable strength of character and deference to the will of Hashem, to proceed to their deaths with joy? This, explains the Rosh Yeshivah, was their yerushah, "inheritance" from their Zaide, grandfather, Avraham Avinu, who went with simchah, joy, to offer his son, Yitzchak, on the Akeidah. That solitary act of consummate emunah, faith in the Almighty, planted the seeds of faith for generations of his descendants.

We live in a generation whose moral pollution has reached epidemic proportion. Decadence is shameless and debauchery is rampant. Society venerates perversion, and our secular leaders are walking advertisements for profligate hedonism at its nadir. Why are Torah-oriented Jews able to withstand the forces of evil, the shocking lifestyles of the "world out there"? How is it that there are Torah-loyal Jews who still aspire to a life of moral purity and spiritual ascendency, continuing to raise their children in the time-hallowed tradition of tznius, modesty, kedushah, sanctity, and taharah, purity? We are not talking about those who are fortunate enough to segregate themselves geographically from society to live an insular life dedicated to Torah and mitzvos without the incursion of society's morality challenging them on an almost constant basis. No, we are referring to the Jew who lives in mainstream America, who works in and confronts the culture on a regular basis. How do they aspire for spiritual freedom and integrity? Rav Pam explains that it must be in the z'chus, merit, of Yosef HaTzaddik and the generations of Jews who lived in Egypt and survived spiritually as a result of their mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, to triumph over the forces of spiritual impurity. Those generations inoculated Klal Yisrael with spiritual antibodies, capable of protecting the Jewish nation from incursion. Our ability to prevail over the moral pollution which confronts us at every corner is part of our DNA, a gene that has been bequeathed to us from generations of righteous Jews who themselves prevailed over these forces.

May Hashem, G-d of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the assembly… and let the assembly of Hashem not be like sheep that have no shepherd. (27:16, 17)

When Moshe Rabbeinu entreated Hashem for a successor, he added an analogy that seems superfluous: "And let the assembly of Hashem not be like sheep that have no shepherd." Why does Moshe add this? The purpose of this analogy is to explain why the request is essential. This applies only to a human being, who might need some sort of an explanation, an encouragement, to act upon the request of the supplicant. This certainly does not apply to Hashem, Who knows everything and who is clearly aware of the need for continued leadership.

Horav Eliyahu Lopian, zl, explains that Moshe's analogy is not presented for the purpose of "convincing" Hashem of the significance of Klal Yisrael's need for a leader, but rather, to inculcate Moshe himself with the importance of leadership. Prayer is accepted by Hashem only when it is expressed with integrity. Karov Hashem l'chol kor'av, l'chol asher yikra'uhu b'emes, "Hashem is near to all those that call upon Him, to all that call upon Him in truth." One must call out to Hashem with veracity amid a powerful belief in the absolute necessity of his supplication. In order for his prayer to be truthful, he must convince himself of the need for a leader and the negative effect of being without a leader on the future of Klal Yisrael.

All too often, we pray to Hashem for things that we think we need without applying ourselves to their real significance. We must ask ourselves: Do we really need what we are requesting? Why do we ask Hashem for health, livelihood, and welfare? Is it for personal reasons, or do we have a higher purpose in achieving these goals? Will it make serving Hashem easier, or will it make life easier for ourselves? We must pray with an emes, a sense of integrity. When we are truthful with ourselves, we will be truthful with Hashem, and we will present our prayers in the proper context. This will provide greater opportunity for Hashem to answer them to our satisfaction.

"Take to yourself, Yehoshua bin Nun, a man in whom there is spirit. (27:18)

Ruach also means wind. Thus, Horav S. R. Hirsch, zl, explains when the Torah uses the word ruach in the connotation of "wind," it denotes a force that is invisible and can be recognized only by its effect as an active, moving force. When the Torah uses it in reference to man, it connotes the human faculties of perception and volition. Every human being has within him a moral and spiritual force. If Hashem is to select Yehoshua to be the leader, it is because he possesses a higher measure of these qualities. He exemplifies a man of perception, one who moves others.

Perhaps we can apply the aforementioned analogy to wind as an invisible force to be recognized only by its effect on the rebbe/talmid, teacher/student relationship. An effective teacher-- and, for that matter, a parent-- should inspire by "ruach," by being an invisible force that moves the student/child forward, without being overpowering, without being overtly noticed. Only after the effect of their guidance has taken place, do we note the input. We now realize that the student/child could not have reached this point without being "moved" by an "invisible" rebbe/parent. This allows for the student/child to experience a sense of independence, while his mentor simultaneously inspires him.

In Shemos 33:11, the Torah delineates another leadership quality Yehoshua possesses. "His servant, Yehoshua bin Nun, a lad, would not depart from the tent." In his commentary to Pirkei Avos, Rashi explains that Yehoshua was selected over Elazar, Pinchas and the seventy elders due to his extreme devotion and dedication both to Torah and to his rebbe, Moshe. He did not leave Moshe's tent, always seeking to learn more and more. Horav Eliyahu Schlesinger, Shlita explains the word naar, youth, as an enviable quality, which denotes that Yehoshua was always prepared to learn more, to delve deeper. He never felt that he knew it all. He viewed himself as a youth whose desire for knowledge was never satisfied.

These are the qualities of a Torah leader. Yehoshua remained a naar, youth, even after he became a leader. I do not think that this description applied to him only prior to his ascension to his position as Klal Yisrael's leader. He was always ready to learn more. He never thought that he possessed all of the knowledge and wisdom. A desire to learn, coupled with a sense of humility, qualified Yehoshua as Moshe's successor. He stood in the background, invisibly guiding and inspiring the people to move forward.

Va'ani Tefillah

Tehillah l'David - a Tehillah, lyric of David.

The opening words of a prayer often bespeak the nature of the prayer. Tehillah l'David: The word tehillah as explained by Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, denotes an enthusiastic outpouring of joy or admiration. It is related to yallel, yellalah, which means an outcry of anguish. It is a term that signifies excitement, enthusiasm and exuberance. Tehillah is an expression of enthusiasm uttered loudly. Chazal tell us that one who thoughtfully recites Tehillah l'David three times a day may be certain that he is on the path to eternal life. It is noted for two unique characteristics: The alphabetical arrangement and its verses, which indicate the Psalmist's intention that it be easily recited from memory; the pasuk Poseiach es yadecha, u'masbia l'chol chai ratzon, "You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing," which is the primary theme of this Psalm: that Hashem cares for every living thing.

Thus, we declare with great adulation and exuberance Tehillah l'David - Aromimcha - "I will exalt You." This means that I will exalt only You, Hashem. I will exalt or praise nothing else in the world - be it an object, person, or idea, unless there accrues some glory to You. Aromimcha, I will exalt you means that I will dedicate my life to this function - either by voice or by action. Everything I will do will in some way be connected to glorifying You.

Moshe Shimon and Tibor Rosenberg

in memory of their father

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

The Ninth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel