Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “Do battle against the Midianites and smite them. They are your enemies because of the plot which they plotted against you concerning the incident involving Pe’or and the incident involving Kozbi the daughter of the Prince of Midian, their sister, who was …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Pinchas 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

 “When Fanaticism Goes Unchecked”

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When Fanaticism Goes Unchecked

The end of Parshat Balak and the beginning of Parshat Pinchas discuss a great tragedy for the Jewish People. They are engaged in orgies with Midianite women following engaging in their idolatrous practices. [Numbers 25:1-3]

It’s not just the rank-and-file of the Jewish People; it’s the aristocracy. It’s Zimri, the prince of the Tribe of Shimon, who takes a woman by the name of Kozbi, the daughter of the priest of Midian, and in front of the Sanhedrin, Moshe, Aharon and the entire Israelite community, he engages in a public act of intercourse. These orgies cause God to bring a plague upon the Jewish People that claims 24,000 lives. [Numbers 25:6, 14-15]

Pinchas, the grandson of Aharon and the grand-nephew of Moshe, takes a spear in his hand, and in the middle of this act of public intercourse, plunges the spear into the two of them, ending the plague. [Numbers 25:7-9]

God acknowledges that Pinchas has ended this Chilul Hashem, this disgrace of God:

פִּנְחָס בֶּן אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן הֵשִׁיב אֶת חֲמָתִי מֵעַל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

Pinchas, son of Elazar, grandson of Aharon Hakohen,
has allowed me to remove my wrath from B’nei Yisrael.
[Numbers 25:11]

And due to Pinchas, this Chillul Hashem and plague end.

Yet the Talmud and Maimonides, in their codification of this action, are hesitant to endorse this act, and grapple with the issue of whether “קנאים פוגעים בו”, an act of zealotry, is permissible.

The Talmud [Sanhedrin 81b-82b], in a position codified by Maimonides [Maimonides, Laws of Forbidden Sexual Relationships 12:5], states that if a zealot asks his rabbi or beit din if he may engage in ending a public act of sexual intercourse, they are not permitted to respond in the affirmative.

Furthermore, if Zimri had separated himself from Kozbi while Pinchas was plunging his spear through the two of them, Pinchas would have been חייב מיתה, he would have been subject to being killed for his action.

Additionally: if during the act of intercourse, Zimri would have turned around to defend himself against Pinchas, he would have gone scot-free, because the halakha considers Pinchas to be a “רודף”, a pursuer.

The Ra’avad, a commentator on Maimonides, adds that before Pinchas could plunge his spear into them while they are engaged in this act of intercouse, he has to warn them about it. It’s not enough the act is happening; there must also be a warning. [Comments to Laws of Forbidden Sexual Relationships, 12:4]

And the Jerusalem Talmud declared that Pinchas’ action was “שלא ברצון חכמים”, it was not halakhically acceptable. It was not permitted by the rabbis. But what can they do? After all, God descended upon them and said that which Pinchas did was fine. [Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 9:7]

We live in an age of fanaticism. We live in a time in which Jews still throw stones at other Jews.

We live in an era in which Jews have no problem interrupting a prayer service that is foreign to them; and, tragically, in which they have no problem protesting against other Jews and calling them such horrific names such as “Nazis”.

Judaism does not celebrate or encourage fanaticism!

True, Pinchas stops a Chilul Hashem, ending a plague that had killed 24,000 people. Yet the Jerusalem Talmud is not willing to endorse his actions. It is only God spoke directly to the people that Pinchas was protected from punishment.

And even if Pinchas’ actions were permissible, the Babylonian Talmud limits it to very specific situations, and even then, if Zimri would have defended himself against Pinchas and killed him, Zimri would have gone unpunished.

The Ra’avad requires that Pinchas warn Zimri and Kozbi about the severity of their sin and imminent punishment prior to plunging his spear into themi.

All of these example demonstrate the clear message that Judaism does not engage in fanaticism.

We are beginning the Three Weeks. It’s a time to (re-)learn that the reason that the Temple was destroyed was NOT because we did not engage with God. It’s because we did not engage with other Jews. It was because of Sin’at Chinam, baseless hatred. [Yoma 9b]

If we want to repair the tragedy of 2,000 years ago, we need to learn that fanaticism is not something that Judaism embraces.

Rather, Judaism embraces the responsibility to treat every Jew and every human being with respect. And even when disagree, to do so in an agreeable fashion.

May we put the story of Pinchas in its proper context and may we take that context into the Three Weeks so that, please God, next year, this will not be a period of fasting, but a period of joy and celebration.

Shabbat Shalom.

Zion Rosner

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Pinchas 5781 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Every Generation Needs Its Own Leaders

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Parshat Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1)

“Every Generation Needs Its Own Leaders”

After wandering for 40 years in the desert, the Jewish People will soon be led into the Promised Land. 

But their leader, Moshe Rabbeinu, will not be accompanying them. 

This was made painfully clear to  Moshe in the Torah portion two weeks ago, when he famously struck a rock in order to draw water from it, instead of speaking to it as God had commanded. 

God explains to Moshe that he will not merit to cross the threshold of the desert into Israel:

כַּאֲשֶׁר מְרִיתֶם פִּי בְּמִדְבַּר צִן בִּמְרִיבַת הָעֵדָה לְהַקְדִּישֵׁנִי בַמַּיִם לְעֵינֵיהֶם

For, in the wilderness of Zin, when the community was contentious, you disobeyed My command to uphold My sanctity in their sight by means of the water. (Numbers 27:14)

And now, in this week’s portion of Pinchas, God reiterates the punishment, figuratively pouring salt in Moshe’s wound.

In fact, the narrative that Moshe will be replaced by another leader and not merit to enter the Land of Israel will be repeated no fewer than five more times between now and the account of Moshe Rabbeinu’s death. 

Surely Moshe comprehended this news the first time. What is the lesson we learn from its repetition? 

A careful look at the events preceding each time the message is given to Moshe hints at a possible answer: Moshe is not being punished merely for striking the rock. Moshe is being replaced because he is unable to engage the next generation.  

When the first generation of Israelites  leave Egypt were involved in the sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe shows amazingly strong leadership qualities.

He is willing to sacrifice his own life for his people:

וְעַתָּה אִם תִּשָּׂא חַטָּאתָם וְאִם אַיִן מְחֵנִי נָא מִסִּפְרְךָ אֲשֶׁר כָּתָבְתָּ

Now, if You will forgive their sin [well and good]; but if not, erase me from the book which You have written!” (Exodus 32:32)

In this week’s portion, however, after the Jewish People engage in idolatrous behavior, the disconnect between Moshe and the second generation is woefully apparent.

He simply doesn’t understand them.

They were not born and raised in the crushing slave experience in Egypt. They live with Divine miracles on a daily basis. Their clothing grows with them and their food and drink comes from the Heavens! 

Moshe had high hopes for this unencumbered younger generation. He envisioned how their comfortable lives would enable them to devote their time to Torah study. 

But instead of striving to achieve greatness, they are rebellious and demanding. 

Deeply frustrated by this behavior, Moshe seemingly gives up on them. When action is required, he takes no initiative.

When the people engage in hedonistic and idolatrous indulgences, as they do in this week’s parsha, Moshe doesn’t intervene. All he can do is weep. (Numbers 25:6)

This is not the Moshe of the past, the active protector and leader of the Jewish People.

And for that reason, his fate is sealed.  He must step down.

Moshe cannot negotiate their needs; he cannot offer any resolution. 

This is not the Moshe of the past who was able to see the silver lining in clouds much darker than this. 

Every time an issue pops up, Moshe is no longer the pro-active protector/leader of the Jewish People; he realizes that he can no longer suffer their impudence at the moment. 

Moshe turns to God using this language: 

יִפְקֹד ה’ אֱלֹקי הָרוּחֹת לְכָל בָּשָׂר אִישׁ עַל הָעֵדָה

Let Hashem, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a person over the congregation who can tend to the diverse needs of all people;

אֲשֶׁר יֵצֵא לִפְנֵיהֶם

who will go out before them;

וַאֲשֶׁר יָבֹא לִפְנֵיהֶם וַאֲשֶׁר יוֹצִיאֵם… 

someone who will bring the people together… (27:16-17)

Moshe says that a leader is someone who can tackle the needs of each person, who inspires people to think higher and live more purposefully, who will advocate for them, and who can unite them.

Just as Moshe articulated the leadership qualities necessary for the generation after his, we too need to connect with leaders who understand the generation and environment in which they live.

We must nurture these leaders; elevate them when they are ready; allow them to grow in their role; learn from them; engage them; support them and, yes, sometimes respectfully challenge them.

May we merit leaders who meet the standard for excellence mentioned by Moshe, and may they merit to lead us to our ultimate destiny as a people.

Shabbat Shalom.

Parshat  Pinchas (Numbers 25:10 – 30:1) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel –  “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Take for yourself Joshua the son of Nun, an individual who has spirit within him, and lay (or lean) your hand upon him.  Stand him up before Elazar the Priest and before the entire congregation, and …

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Rachel Blumenthal

Parshat Pinchas: A Peaceful Encounter? Rachel Blumenthal studied at Midreshet Lindenbaum from 2012 to 2013. She currently teaches Navi in Middle School at Westchester Day School in Mamaroneck, NY. Sidrat Pinchas takes us on a long journey, beginning with Hashem’s promise to Pinchas that he will always have peace through the census of the nation, …

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