This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Pinchas (5766)
This week we read of how a Jew by the name of Pinchas jumped from obscurity, saved the entire Jewish nation and received two divine gifts from the hand of G-d!
Peace and priesthood!
Peace is perhaps the most precious thing on earth. It is the sign of the Messianic era and the goal of mankind. All strife will be reconciled and all creation will be transformed into a symphony of harmony and love. (Isaiah 11:6)
And priesthood means being able to bless others and serve in the Holy Temple!
But if we turn back a few sentences to the end of last week's Torah portion we disappointingly find that Pinchas earned these two gems by viciously murdering two people!
He publicly speared Zimri, the great leader of the entire tribe of Shimon and his non-Jewish girlfriend, Kozbi, a princess of Midian in cold blood!
This is, at first glance, completely not understood:
1) Zimri seemingly was trying to promote love and peace with the gentiles, why did Pinchas have to go and kill him?
2) Why did Pinchas get rewarded? Murder was never a praiseworthy trait in Judaism. Even King David was not allowed to build the Temple because he had the blood of war on his hands.
3) In Judaism, children at the tender age of five are supposed to be learning Torah. What type of a story is this for children?
4) 'Torah' means teaching. What practical lesson is there for us in all this? It is forbidden to just take the law into our own hands… especially by murder!
To understand this, here is a story. (Shmuot V'Sipurim by Rabbi R.N. HaCohen vol. 3 pg 229)
One of the greatest Chabad Chassidim of all time was Rabbi Hillel Paretcher. Born in Russia some 200 years ago, by the time he was thirteen he was fluent in the entire Talmud and law books and when he was fifteen knew all the works of Kabala by heart.
But then he saw the book 'Tanya' written by the first Rebbe of Chabad and he realized he had not yet really begun to serve G-d. He became an ardent Chabad Chassid under the first three Rebbes and was often sent to distant villages to strengthen Judaism until his passing almost 60 years later at the age of 74.
Once when Reb Hillel was already over sixty years old and was on one of his missions from the Tzemach Tzedek (the third Rebbe of Chabad) a terrible storm broke out and he was forced to find shelter in an inn in a small village in the middle of nowhere somewhere in vast Russia.
The owner of the inn happened to be a Jew and even recognized Reb Hillel. When he realized what an honorable guest Divine providence had sent him he was beside himself with joy and tried to do everything possible to make Reb Hillel comfortable. After all, the poor Rabbi must be miserable, he thought to himself. The storm probably wrecked his itinerary and plans and made him a virtual prisoner in his inn.
He offered him food, a bed, a warm drink, a change of clothes a warm bed, books to learn from but Reb Hillel wasn't interested in any of this.
He looked as though everything was going according to plan and all he asked for was… a minyan (Ten Jews to pray with). In other words, eight more Jews except himself and the innkeeper.
At first the innkeeper couldn't understand why Reb Hillel was so insistent, after all it was permissible to pray without a minyan, it was night and there was a storm outside. Who would possible leave their house for such a thing? It would be necessary to search the entire village ... maybe several villages! And the Jews here weren't really very religious anyway.
But the Rabbi refused to listen to reason. He was even willing to pay each person a ruble for coming. He wanted a minyan.
So the innkeeper had no choice but to put on his fur coat, scarf, fur hat and boots, lower his head to brave the wind, open the door and step outside to begin to search for Jews.
And he had more success than he thought.
In fact, after two hours of work he succeeded in finding seven more! But he needed one more! Plus himself and the Rabbi all he had was nine! Where would he ever find another Jew? And it was beginning to get really late!
But strangely Reb Hillel refused to let up. "Think!" He ordered the innkeeper, "There must be one more Jew somewhere! The Baal Shem Tov said that when there are nine Jews a tenth will soon appear. Think!"
But try as he could the innkeeper couldn't come up with anything. Then one of the others raised his head, opened his eyes wide and exclaimed. "Hey! What about Vitali! If you call him Jewish… I mean, at least he used to be! I remember when he was called Velvel. Is that okay Rabbi? I mean...if we don't use him we'll be here all night and... Well... excuse me but... we're tired!!" All the others looked silently at one another and nodded solemnly."
Reb Hillel looked at the innkeeper who was really in a dilemma and asked. "Who is Vitali?"
The innkeeper was in conflict. On one hand without Vitali he would never get this minyan business over. But on the other hand it was far to walk, there was a raging storm outside and he was certain that Vitali would refuse. He couldn't figure out why was the Rabbi was so ardently locked in on having a minyan.
The innkeeper replied, "Well, I guess Vitali is a Jew, if you can call him that. He lives in a village about two miles from here. But he doesn't believe in anything… nothing!! He married a non-Jewish woman years ago, has a few children and is as far from Jews and praying as you can get. He's not going to come. You can forget it!"
But it didn't help. "Listen" Said the Rabbi "You have to go bring him here. Tell him that I'm willing to give him thirteen rubles. You understand? Thirteen. But don't raise the price above that. Now please go and bring him."
The innkeeper wanted to just refuse. He wanted to stay home with all his heart but something about Reb Hillel made it impossible. Without thinking too much he again put on his scarf, coat, boots and hat, tilted his head down and set once more into the storm to the neighboring village and … Vitali.
Over an hour later he arrived, cold to the bone, at Vitali's door. The wind was howling and the full moon shone eerily through the snow around him. "What am I doing? This is insane!" he thought to himself for a moment. But he knocked. Louder and louder until someone groaned from inside, "one minute! One Minute!"
The door opened a crack, someone peeked out and he was let in. "I came from the next village." He explained to Vitali's wife as he shook the snow off his coat. "We need ten Jews to pray and I want Vitali to come. I'll give him thirteen rubles! Thirteen!"
Meanwhile Vitali sat up in bed, took one squinting look at his guest in the flickering light of his kerosene lamp and said in a croaking, half-asleep voice, "What!? Jews?! Pray?! Feh!! Get out of here! Fool! I'm not going nowhere for a bunch of crazy Jews. Go home!!" As he laid back down and covered his head with the blanket.
"Just as I thought!" the innkeeper said to himself. "He refused." He turned to the door bundled up, turned the doorknob and was about to open up and step outside when a woman's voice from behind him yelled …'Stop!'
It was Vitali's wife. She rushed to the bed, ripped the covers off her husband's curled-up body and screamed. "What, are you insane!? Thirteen rubles is four months wages! Why, you wake up every night to go to work for a tenth of a ruble and now someone offers you thirteen rubles! Aren't you ashamed?! I need new shoes, and a new dress. Don't you think of me?!"
Vitali mumbled something and… sat up! She shamed him!! He begrudgingly got out of bed, put on his coat and boots, mumbled something else and followed the innkeeper into the storm.
Over an hour later they arrived … it was almost midnight. Rav Hillel smiled in joy, washed his hands and stood before the group to lead the prayers.
His prayers were melodious and genuine and Vitali was touched. He stood in the corner watching and listening like a small child; almost hypnotized by what was happening.
After the prayers, which lasted almost a half and hour, Vitaly approached the innkeeper and asked who the Rabbi was, what was his name and why was he praying so earnestly.
"This is Rabbi Hillel Paritcher" the innkeeper answered, "and he always prays earnestly."
Suddenly Vitali's eyes filled with tears and his body shook unexplainably. Something was churning inside him. He sat in the nearest chair and memories of thirty years ago flooded his mind.
"Reb Hillel!" He remembered how, when he was five years old the entire village when he lived prepared for a great Rabbi to come and everyone was saying, 'Reb Hillel, Reb Hillel the entire day.
It seems that this was the same Rabbi Hillel and divine providence had brought them together again.
He approached the Rabbi, they went into a side room and two hours later Vitali came out weeping, ordered the innkeeper to give the thirteen rubles to his wife and he went to the Tzemach Tzedik to learn how to live like a Jew.
This answers our questions.
There is a mysterious difference between the Jews and the rest of the world: the Jews have a special connection and obligation to the Creator. That is what the Torah means when it calls the Jews G-d's sons (Ex.4:22) and G-d's servants (Lev. 25:42)
The rest of mankind are G-d's precious handiwork, G-d's masterpiece of love and perfection… but it is the job of the Jews to teach them this.
This is what Vitali realized when he saw Reb Hillel praying:
And this is the secret of the two gifts granted to Pinchas…. Peace and blessing…
That is why Pinchas killed Zimri and was rewarded. Zimri tried to teach the entire world, by disgusting public example, that all mankind, Jew and gentile alike, was created only for selfish pleasure. And this would have destroyed all creation.
This even five year old Jewish children know is wrong. They already read in the earlier books of the Torah that Jews are sons and servants of G-d and, beginning from the Ten Commandments, that there are sexual sins.
But here they learn how important it is to serve G-d with even the most natural impulses.
The Midrash and the Zohar say that Pinchas has the same soul as Elijah the prophet.. who will usher in Moshiach.
Just as Pinchas fought for the holiness of the human body and Elijah purified his physical body to the degree that he was above even death …. so will Moshiach purify all mankind and the entire physical world to a level of revealed G-dliness, peace, holiness and blessing.
It's all up to us to do all we can to bring...
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