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Pinchas
The significance of the almond rod Print E-mail
Thursday, 13 July 2017

This Shabbat, we read the first of the Three Haftarot of Retribution which are read during the three weeks of mourning for the Beit HaMikdash (Temple).

In Yirmiyahu 1:11-12 we read:

And the word of God came to me saying:

Yirmiyahu, what do you see?

And I said,

I see a rod (makel) of an almond tree (shaked)

Then God said,

You have seen well;

For I watch over (shaked) my words to perform it.

What does the image of a rod of an almond tree signify?

A rod is associated with beating. Bilam used a rod to beat his donkey in last week’s Parsha. Unfortunately, even in the last generation it was considered acceptable in some parts of the world including some schools in Europe and the United States for teachers to strike students who were misbehaving with a ruler.

Radak explains that the retribution would come quickly to Israel, just as the almond trees blossom first in the spring (as we know from the famous Tu Bishvat song “Hashkedia porachat…”)

In Kohelet Raba 12:5 we learn:

Just as the almond tree takes 21 days to produce its fruit after it blossoms, so every decree (all of the catastrophes that befell Israel) took no longer than 21 days (from the 17th of Tamuz to the 9th of Av).

Shaked does not just mean almond, it also means to watch over.

Even during the catastrophes, God was watching over the Jewish people and pushing to end the retribution as quickly as possible.

May these three weeks of retribution pass quickly and may the Jewish people unite and fulfill Yirmiyahu’s prophecy to rebuild and make amends. 

 
God teaches Eliyahu HaNavi a lesson Print E-mail
Monday, 25 July 2016

This Shabbat in Israel we will read the Haftara about Eliyahu HaNavi from Melachim Alef (Kings I) 18:46-19:21. This Haftara will not be read outside of Israel this year, as next Shabbat when Parshat Pinchas will be read outside of Israel, we will be observing the three weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av and the prophecies of destruction will be read.

 In our Haftara, God shows Eliyahu a vision which according to Ralbag is meant to rebuke Eliyahu for having criticized Israel in harsh terms saying that they deserved to be punished. God’s vision will show Eliyahu that instead of wishing to punish the people, He is showing them patience and compassion, giving them time to repent. From this vision, Eliyahu should learn that his role should be to pray for them, not attack them.

The vision is found in Melachim Alef 19:11-12 “The word of God said, ‘Go out of the cave and stand on the mountain before God.’ And behold, God was passing and a great and powerful wind, smashing mountains and breaking rocks went before God. ‘God is not in the wind!’ Eliyahu was told. After the wind came an earthquake. ‘God is not in the earthquake’. After the earthquake came a fire. ‘God is not in the fire’. After the fire came a still, thin voice.”

The lesson that Eliyahu learns is found in sentences 13-14 “It happened when Eliyahu heard this, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood by the cave’s entrance; and behold, a voice spoke unto him and said ‘Why are you here Eliyahu?’ He said ‘I have acted with great zeal for God, the God of Legions, for the Children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant; they have razed Your alters and have killed your prophets by the sword so that I alone have remained and they now seek to take my life.”

According to Ralbag, God showed Eliyahu three destructive forces through which he could have punished Israel, as the prophet thought he should. But each time, God told him that his desire was neither in the wind, the earthquake nor the fire for he did not wish to destroy Israel despite the severity of their misdeeds.

According to Malbim, God meant to teach Eliyahu and other prophets and leaders that the preferable way to teach people is calmly and lovingly, not through anger and force as Eliyahu had done by bringing the drought and killing the prophets of Baal.

At this point a new prophet is chosen to replace Eliyahu. According to Rashi, since Eliyahu still wanted to punish Israel, even after this vision, God did not want him to continue as a prophet.

We can learn from this story that our leaders and rabbis should not give fire and brimstone speeches to try to convince the nation to follow the Torah. Rather, they should teach with loving kindness and serve as role models that the nation will want to emulate. If they are unable to lead in the manner prescribed by God, then they would be better off leaving their positions of leadership.

 
Is ISIS in this week’s Haftara? Print E-mail
Friday, 10 July 2015

This Shabbat we read the first of the three Haftarot of affliction which are read between the 17th of Tamuz (the day that the walls of Jerusalem were breached) and the 9th of Av (the day of the destruction of both the First and Second Temples).

 

The Haftara from Yirmiyahu 1:1-19, 2:1-3 describes the consequences that would be visited upon Israel in response to its sinfulness.

 

The famous verse (Yirmiyahu 1:14) “…Out of the north the evil shall break forth upon the inhabitants of the land” is as relevant today as it was in the days of Yirmiyahu.

 

The name of the northern country that will attack Israel is not specified here or in Yirmiyahu 4:6 “Set up the standard toward Zion: seek cover, stay not: for I will bring evil from the north and a great destruction” or in Yirmiyahu 6:1 “O children of Binyamin, flee for safety out if the midst of Yerushalayim and blow the shofar of Tekoa and set up a beacon in Bet HaKerem: for evil appears out of the north and great destruction.”

 

The wording is ambiguous on purpose to foreshadow what will happen in the future as well. In the days of Yirmiyahu the enemy was Nevuchadnezar the king of Bavel (Babylonia) who destroyed the First Temple.

 

Yet throughout the ages different enemies from different countries came from the north to try to destroy us.

 

Today, Israel is preparing their weapons in the event that they will have to fight with ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). ISIS has control of territory occupied by ten million people in Iraq and Syria, both countries are to the north of Israel.

 

In addition, it was reported that the president of Iran (another country to the north of Israel), Hassan Rouhani said that in honor of today’s holiday of Qods Day, Iran should shout its hatred of Israel.

 

The prophecies of destruction continue to haunt us. However, we must focus on the end of the Haftara, a positive statement from Yirmiyahu 2:2-3 “…I remember for your sake the kindness of your youth, the love of your bridal days, your following Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Israel is sacred unto God, the first of his grain; all who devour him shall bear guilt, evil shall come upon them- the word of God.”

 

Just as the Jewish nation followed God into the desert, the Jews again have trusted in God and against all odds have returned to the Land of Israel. With a strong army and our faith in God we don’t have anything to fear.

 
Do Not Rejoice When Your Enemy Falls Print E-mail
Thursday, 10 July 2014

Do Not Rejoice When Your Enemy Falls

 

At the end of Parshat Balak (Bamidbar 25 :7-8), in the midst of a plague which was brought about from B’nai Yisrael acting promiscuous and worshipping idols with the Moavite women, Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the grandson of Aharon the Kohen saw the leader of the tribe of Shimon and the daughter of the king of Midian acting promiscuously. Pinchas rose up, took a spear in his hand, followed the Israelite man into the tent and pierced them both…and the plague was halted from upon B’nai Yisrael.

 

At the beginning of Parshat Pinchas we read (Bamidbar 25:10-13): “God spoke to Moshe saying: ‘Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Kohen turned back my anger from upon B’nai Yisrael, when he zealously avenged My vengeance among them, so that I did not consume B’nai Yisrael with My vengeance. Therefore tell him that I give him My covenant of peace. It shall be for him and his descendents after him a covenant of eternal kehunah (priesthood) because he took vengeance for his God and he atoned for B’nai Yisrael.’”

 

Nechama Leibowitz points out that the Rabbis of the Jerusalem Talmud state that the religious leaders at the time were not happy with what Pinchas did and wanted to excommunicate him. Therefore God immediately declared that Pinchas did the right thing.

 

According to Rabbi Baruch Epstein, author of Torah Temima, the religious leaders wanted to make sure that Pinchas did not have a selfish motive when he murdered the couple. God therefore backed up Pinchas and said that his zeal was genuine.

 

Rav Kook explains that when it was time to write the blessing V’Limalshinim (Against Heritics) for the Shmoneh Esrei they needed to choose a Talmudic sage who loved his fellow creatures rather than a hateful person in order to insure that it would be written with the purest of motives and for the sake of Heaven as it is a blessing of vengeance: “And for the slanderers let there be no hope; and may all wickedness perish in an instant; and may all Your enemies be cut down speedily. My you speedily uproot, smash, cast down and humble the wanton sinners- speedily in our days. Blessed are You God Who breaks enemies and humbles wanton sinners.”

 

The person who was chosen to write the blessing was the Talmudic sage known as Shmuel HaKatan (Shmuel the Modest) who teaches in Pirkei Avot 4:19 a quote from Mishlei 24:17-18: “Rejoice not when your enemy falls and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the Lord see it and it displeases Him and He turn away His wrath from him.”

 

Pinchas and Shmuel HaKatan were not looking for honor, they were selfless people who did what they needed to for the sake of Heaven.

 

The Jewish people today still follow the words of Mishlei that are quoted by Shmuel HaKatan. We do not rejoice at the downfall of our enemies. At the Pesach seder we remove a drop of wine as we recite each plague to remember that even after all of the horrible things that the Egyptians did to us, we do not rejoice at their downfall. When our enemies die or are killed in wars we do not celebrate. The IDF continues to try to keep the casualties of war to a minimum. We are not looking to celebrate the downfall of those who want to destroy us, we are just trying to protect ourselves.

 

God gives Pinchas a covenant of peace. According to Abravanel, God protects Pinchas from the relatives of Zimri who may want to kill him as an act of revenge.

 

According to the Netziv, the covenant of peace is that Pinchas should not become quick tempered and angry. His heart should not be in an emotional unrest after having killed two people, rather he should have peace and tranquility of the soul.

 

We pray for peace in the Land of Israel and throughout the world.

 

 
The Steps That Were Taken To Avoid Jealousy Print E-mail
Friday, 13 July 2012

In Parshat Pinchas we read about B’nai Yisrael’s inheritance of the Land of Israel.

 

In Bamidbar 26:54 we read: “To the large tribe, increase their inheritance, and to the small, diminish their inheritance, each person according to his number, shall be given his inheritance.”

 

Rashi comments: “To the tribe with the greater populace, they gave a larger portion. Although the portions were unequal, as everything was assigned according to the size of the tribe, they implemented the apportioning solely by lots and the lottery was inspired by Ruach HaKodesh (The Sacred Spirit) as stated explicitly in Bava Batra122a. Elazar the Kohen was clothed in the Urim v’Tumim (the oracle worn in the breastplate of the Kohen Gadol which conveyed Divinely formulated information), and said with Sacred Spirit, ‘If tribe so and so is drawn, then border so and so will be drawn with it.’ The names of the tribes were written on twelve notes and the twelve boundaries were written on twelve notes. They were mixed into a container, and the leader placed his hand into it and removed two notes. There appeared, in his hand, the note with the name of his tribe and the note with the boundary specified for it. The lot itself would cry out exclaiming, ‘I am the lot drawn for the so and so boundary, belonging to the tribe of so and so’ as it is said in verse 56 ‘by word of the lottery.’”

 

They went through all of this trouble to make sure that there would be no in fighting amongst the tribes and no jealousy of one tribe feeling that he didn’t get as good an inheritance as another tribe.

 

The important lesson that can be learned here is that we should go out of our way to make sure that everything that we do is done in a fair and honest manner. We must be as sensitive as possible in order to help eradicate jealousy from this world and help bring about the true redemption including the return of all of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.

 

 
The First Smicha (Ordination) Print E-mail
Friday, 15 July 2011
In Parshat Pinchas, Moshe is commanded to ordain Yehoshua, his successor in front of the congregation.

 

In Bamidbar 27:18-20, Moshe is told to: take Yehoshua, lay your hand on him (vesamachta et yadcha), set him before Elazar and before the congregation…

 

In Bamidbar 27:22-23, Moshe implements what God commanded him: He took Yehoshua, laid his hands on him and set him before Elazar and all of the congregation…

 

Rashi points out that Moshe laid his hands generously in much greater measure than he had been commanded. God said to him: “Lay your hand” in the singular and Moshe did it with both hands, making him a vessel full to the brim and heaped up, so he filled him with a generous helping of his wisdom.

 

In order to ensure a smooth transition, Moshe’s successor was chosen and ordained during his lifetime. While Moshe was still alive it was understood that Yehoshua would one day take over and that he had Moshe’s approval.

 

Throughout the generations our great Rabbis ordained other Rabbis in order to make sure that they would have a successor and that their tradition would continue.

 

Some of the greatest Rabbis of our generation have passed away in the past 25 years in the United States including Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Rav Moshe), Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (The Rav) and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (The Rebbe).

 

None of these Rabbis chose one successor, each one ordained many other Rabbis to ensure that their teachings would continue in the different streams of Orthodox Judaism, Rav Moshe in the Orthodox Union and Agudat Yisrael communities, The Rav in the Torah U’Madda Yeshiva University community and The Rebbe in the Chabad Lubavich Community.

 
Those Who Care About Israel Will Be Rewarded Print E-mail
Friday, 02 July 2010

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In Parshat Pinchas we read about a few different personalities who are rewarded for caring about the Land of Israel.

 

Two of the personalities were Yehoshua Bin Nin and Calev Ben Yefuneh who did not spread gossip about the Land of Israel as the other spies did. In fact, they spoke up to defend the land! Therefore, Yehoshua and Calev were allowed to enter the Land of Israel even though the rest of their generation died off.

 

A modern day reward that Yehoshua and Calev received was that there are streets in Jerusalem named in their honor. It is a privilege for me to pass both Yehoshua Bin Nun street and Ben Yefuneh streets almost every day in the Katamon and Baka neigh borhoods. Some street names we start to take for granted but for some reason (maybe because their names are so long) every time I hear those names it reminds me of the courage that Yehoshua and Calev had to stand up for the Land of Israel.

 

Another group of people who stood up for the Land of Israel and were later rewarded were the daughters of Tzelophchad: Machla, Noa, Chogla, Milka and Tirtza who asked God for the right to inherit land (even though they were women) since their father died and they did not have any brothers. God told Moshe that women should be allowed to inherit land if their father dies and they don’t have any brothers. Their reward was that they were able to inherit the land as well as help clarify that women in the future would be able to inherit the land as well.

 

During these three weeks between the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av we are pushed to think more about the Land of Israel as we spiritually mourn for the Beit HaMikdash. During this time we should also physically push ourselves to do more for Israel through giving Tzedaka, planning a trip to Israel, sending a child to study in Israel or speaking out against anti-Semitism.

 

Through acts of kindness and care for the Land of Israel we can work together to bring the Geula, the Final Redemption.

 
Pinchas is Eliyahu? Print E-mail
Friday, 10 July 2009

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Parshat Pinchas opens with the same words as the Brit Milah (circumcision) ceremony (Bamidbar 25:10-12):

 

“God spoke to Moshe saying: Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aharon the Kohen turned back my wrath from upon the children of Israel, when he zealously avenged Me among them, so I do not consume the Children of Israel in My vengeance. Therefore, say: Behold! I give him “Briti Shalom” my covenant of peace”.

 

These verses are recited at the Brit Milah based on the Midrashic opinion (Yalkut Shimoni, Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer) that Pinchas the Kohen and Eliyahu HaNavi were the same person.

 

Rashi on Baba Metzia 114b states that Pinchas was described as acting zealously for God and Eliyahu describes himself as acting zealously for God (Kings 19:10) therefore Eliyahu is assumed to be Pinchas.

 

Pinchas, Aharon’s grandson risked his life to avenge the desecration of God’s name. In the merit of this zealous act, God gave him a “Brit Shalom”, covenant of peace.

 

The custom of a Kiseh Shel Eliyahu (Throne of Eliyahu) dates back the the 6th to 10th centuries and is based on Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 29, a Midrash composed by the school of the Tanna Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus.

 

Rabbi Paysach Krohn explains that when the Jews entered the Land of Israel, they observed the mitzvah of Brit Milah. However, after the death of King Solomon, the Jewish kingdom was divided into two and the kingdom of Ephraim stopped observing the mitzvah of Brit Milah. Eliyahu, a prophet at the time cried out to God and swore that he would restrain the heavens from giving rain or dew. God told Eliyahu that because the mitzvah of Brit Milah was so important to him, he would be rewarded with being present at every Brit Milah that the Jews would perform. (Yoreh Deah 265:25)

  
 
Transforming Mourning into Joy Print E-mail
Thursday, 17 July 2008

Parshat Pinchas ends with a listing of the korbanot (sacrifices) which are brought to the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) on each of the holidays. At first glance, the list of the korbanot and the holidays seems out of place in a Parsha which deals with vengeance, enemies, a plague, the new census of B’nai Yisrael, the request by the daughters of Zelophchad to inherit land, God’s reiteration of the decree that Moshe would not enter the land and the promise that Yehoshua would take over.

Rav Yisrael MeRozin explains that usually Parshat Pinchas which deals with all of the holidays is read during the three weeks of mourning leading up to Tisha b’Av, the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash (although this year we read it on the sixteenth of Tamuz). In the days of the full redemption, the fast of the Seventeenth of Tamuz will be the first day of a new holiday, Tisha B’Av will be the last day of the holiday and the three weeks in between will be like Chol haMoed (the intermediate days of the holiday) as it says in the book of Yirmiyahu 31:12 “and I will turn their mourning to joy, and will comfort them and make them rejoice from their sorrow.”

According to the Sfat Emet, Parshat Pinchas mentions the korbanot in order to wake the Jewish people up to the fact that they should yearn for the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash speedily in our day. When we read the section of the Torah about the korbanot on Shabbat it is received by God as if we actually offered up sacrifices. Even in the days of the Beit Hamikdash, the main service was the prayers (rather than the korbanot) since prayer combines thought, speech and action.

As we approach the Seventeenth of Tamuz, the three weeks and Tisha B’Av lets pray that Yirmiyahu’s prophecy will come true and that our mourning will turn into joy. After all who would object to having three more weeks of holidays!

 
What Makes a Real Leader? Print E-mail
Monday, 02 July 2007

In Parshat Pinchas, God tells Moshe that he will not be entering the land of Israel. Moshe outlines the criterion that are needed for the next leader in Bamidbar 27:16-17: “Let God, the God of spirits appoint a man over the community (ish al haedah) who will go forth before them and who will come back before them and who would lead them out and who would bring them in so that the community of God shall not be like sheep without a shepherd”. God’s answer in 27:18 was “Take yourself Yehoshua Bin Nun, a man in whom there is spirit (is hasher ruach bo) and lay your hand on him”.

According to Chidushei HaRim, it is well known that as the generations progress, the leaders are weaker. Unfortunately we really need the opposite, as the generations become weaker, we really need stronger leaders. This can be compared to a person who is sick. The more ill he gets, the more he needs better doctors.

Degel Mincha Efraim points out that Moshe specifically says “ish al haedah”, a man over the community. The leader must be above the community in order to influence them. This is in contrast to what B’nai Yisrael said in the days of Shmuel “tneh lanu melech” give us a king (who we can control). Their mission was to take control and influence the king.

Rabbi M.M of Kotzk says that the reason Moshe brought up the proper character traits of a leader at this point was because he did not want a zealous person like Pinchas to become the leader. A leader must have a tremendous amount of patience in order to devote their time and attention to each person who seeks help.

Oznayim LeTotah adds that “ish asher ruach bo”, a person in whom there is spirit refers to a person who has the spirit of God and Torah within him. In order to be the leader of the Jewish people one must be religious.

With all of the scandals taking place in Israel and abroad, today more than ever we need strong leaders who can positively influence the Jewish community. We need people who are truly religious and patient. Most of all, we need a leader like Yehoshua which we can proudly call an “ish” a mench.