Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
e-mail yosilr@juno.com

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Parshat Pinchas

This "Vortify" is dedicated to the recovery of my dear wife Kathy (Chaya Gitel Tzirel bas Devorah). May she receive a quick and speedy recovery and may she merit all the blessings that Hashem, the True Healer can bestow.

One of the major problems facing both the Jewish and secular world today is the question of leadership, or the lack of it. Our leaders seem to be leading by consensus rather than by ideals. Opinion polls, surveys and the like are necessary for our leaders to define their own positions and often we are unsure of who is leading whom. This weeks Parsha gives us a glimpse into two situations of leadership that define how the Torah views the candidate, and the qualities a true leader must possess.

Last week's Parsha ended with the daughters of Moav enticing the men of Israel to behave in a lewd manner that quickly became idolatrous. So wanton did Israel behave that Zimri ben Salu'a, the prince of the tribe of Shimon (Simon) took Cozbi the daughter of Tzur, a princess of Midian and succumbed to public debauchery before the eyes of the nation and before Moshe and Elazar the High Priest.

"And behold a man of the Children of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman near to his brothers in the sight of Moshe and in the sight of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel; and they wept at the entrance of the Ohel Mo'ed (the Tent of Meeting). Pinchas son of Elazar, son of Aharon the Priest saw and stood up from amid the assembly and took a spear in his hand. He followed the Israelite man into the tent and pierced them both, the Israelite man and the Midianite woman into her stomach - and the plague was halted from the Children of Israel. And the dead numbered 24,000 from the plague." (Bamidbar 25:6-9)

The first leader is Pinchas, the namesake of our Parsha. Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Priest in an act of zealousness, calmed Hashem's anger and abated His rage after the death of the above mentioned pair. Our Parsha begins with words of praise for Pinchas:

"Therefore, say: 'Behold I give him My covenant of Peace. And it shall be for him and for his offspring after him a covenant of eternal priesthood, because he avenged his G-d, and he atoned for the Children of Israel." (Bamidbar 25:12-13)

The Torah obviously approved of his actions. But to many of us, with our modern thinking this is very problematic. One of the great features of the Torah's approach to justice is that in order to bring anyone to judgment, a process MUST take place. Two witnesses must not only testify that they saw the transgression take place but that each warned the individual that the action would be a sin and that he would be liable to the court. Without the two witnesses and their warnings, any justice meted out could only be meted out by Hashem.

Yet, Pinchas enters the tent, and without warning, spears the two and not only gets away with (what appears to be) "murder" but is rewarded for his action! Hashem blesses Pinchas with a Brit Shalom (a covenant of peace) that transforms him and his descendants into priests.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888, Germany) informs us in commentary on this verse that only Aharon and his four sons originally became priests. After the priesthood began, any children born to priests also became priests. Pinchas who was born in Egypt was not a priest but a member of the tribe of Levi until this event. We find proof of this from the writings of Ben Sira (Apocrypha) 45:23: "And Pinchas son of Elazar was third in glory." After the death of his father Elazar, Pinchas become the High Priest.

The difficulty that many have with this Parsha is simple: How could a man who takes the law into his own hands be rewarded for his action with so powerful a symbol of Hashem's acceptance of this act? It is one thing to stem the tide of lawlessness with one act of such potent magnitude that all take notice and change their ways. But to do so in a way that appears to contradict everything that Judaism and its system of justice represents is absolutely forbidden. An axiom of Halachah (Jewish law) is Mitzvah Haba'ah B'Aveyra, Aveyra (performing a commandment of the Torah through a transgression is in fact a transgression). In other words it is forbidden to steal in order to give charity, it turns the virtuous act of charity into an offense.

The Talmud in Sanhedrin 82a relates that when Zimri confronted Moshe and the elders with his wanton behavior with Cozbi, he momentarily forgot the appropriate Halachic principle. Pinchas remembered that Moshe had taught that if a leader of Israel behaves in a sexually immoral and offensive manner in public, that he should be killed at the moment of the deed, and without trial. It was at that moment that Pinchas acted in a zealous manner and was rewarded by Hashem.

The Torah teaches that leadership role must be assumed even when present leaders are incapable of action. The leader may have to do things that appear to be controversial and unpopular and at the same time he must follow Halachah to the letter. The result is Peace. When leadership is properly executed, it can arrest the plagues that endanger the populace. All the commentaries agree that Pinchas was denigrated and ridiculed by his fellow Israelites for this action, but with the Covenant of Peace given to him, all were silenced.

This is not to say that any act of zealousness is acceptable. Indignation that manifests itself outside of Halachah is a sin. To throw stones at passing cars on Shabbat, or to spit and to throw feces on worshippers at the Wailing Wall is unacceptable behavior.

The second example in our Parsha deals with the appointment of a leader to replace Moshe.

"And 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 in before them, and who shall take them out and bring them in , and let the assembly of Hashem not be like sheep that have no shepherd.'" (27:15-17)

This concept of leadership is much easier to accept. A leader must be the primary force behind the nation. He must take them and guide them on the paths of morality, ethical lifestyle, and spirituality. Like a herd of sheep without a shepherd, the nation can easily go astray, following paths that lead to danger and defeat.

But there is also another aspect of this concept of leadership. I once wrote in a previous "Vortify" about an allusion by the Talmud in Sotah that deals with the "face of the generation" preceding the coming of the Mashiach (Messiah). The Talmud states that the face of that generation will be as "the face of a dog." What a strange analogy.

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter (of Salant, named Yisrael Lipkin, 1810-1883, founder of the Mussar movement) said:

"The dog is in the habit of racing ahead of his master, but keeps looking back to see what direction his master is about to take and then continues to trot ahead in the direction indicated by his master." (Wellsprings of Torah, page 337)

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig

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