This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Pinchas (5764)
This week's Torah portion is named after a Jew who took matters in his own hands and killed another Jew.
This is, at first glance, not understood. The word 'Torah' means instruction. The Torah tells us how to live our lives.
If so, what can we possibly learn from Pinchas? Today it is certainly forbidden to do what he did. We can't kill people who we think deserve it - even if they really DO deserve it. First of all, nowadays there is no death penalty and second, even when there was, it could only be performed after due process of law.
Furthermore, only the very beginning of this week's section deals with Pinchas, the rest speaks of totally different topics like dividing the land of Israel, choosing a replacement for Moses and details about the Jewish Holidays. Why call the entire section after him?
To understand this, here is a story.
About 15 years ago a Chabad Chassid called Rabbi Natan Barkhan was standing in line before the Lubavitcher Rebbe's headquarters in Brooklyn to get a dollar.
As every Sunday for several years, thousands of Jews came from all over the word for "dollars". They waited patiently, men in one line women in the other, for their turn to stand and face before this Holy Tzadik for a few seconds, receive a dollar from his hand - and perhaps even a blessing and some advice as well.
Rabbi Barkhan would be back in his home in Israel soon. He just had finished several grueling weeks of intensive 'outreach' work in his homeland Russia where he had been born and raised. His flight was to leave in just a few hours but he couldn't pass up the chance to get another dollar from the Rebbe.
Finally the line was moving...it was the men's turn again, he was getting closer. Suddenly he was there. He was standing before the Rebbe. It was as though the entire world became quiet and time stood still - he was stunned (as he was each time he stood in his presence).
The Rebbe handed him a dollar and said 'Bracha V'Hazlacha' (Blessing and
Success) and he began to move on.
Suddenly the Rebbe called him back, "Are you going to Brazil?"
Rabbi Natan certainly was not going to Brazil. "Yes!" He answered. "To Brazil... I'm going to Brazil!"
The Rebbe smiled, gave him another dollar and said "Here is something to add to your successful mission. Much blessing!"
He called his wife in Israel, told her of the sudden change in plans, paid the additional fee to have his plane ticket changed and that very evening was on his way to San Paulo. A Chassid does what he is told - with joy!
He checked into a hotel and immediately began calling the few people he knew in the city. It was his first time in Brazil but he had a few names and telephone numbers of people he had met in business or elsewhere. He wasn't going to leave until something happened.
Suddenly, on the third day after his arrival, he remembered a woman that had been a next door neighbor of his in Russia. He remembered her saying that she was going to move to Brazil, maybe he would try to locate her.
It took some searching but finally he found someone by that name that lived...in San Paulo! He called and, sure enough, it was her! Of course she remembered him! She was overjoyed and insisted that he come visit her. In fact she had been praying that someone would come and talk to her oldest son.
It sounded like this could be the reason he had been sent!
When the Rabbi arrived her son received him with great excitement. He was obviously overwhelmed by the sight of a genuine Jew. (It reminded him of his father and grandfather). For many hours they sat and spoke on all sorts of Jewish topics until at one point Rabbi Natan noticed that tears began to form in the young man's eyes and it became hard for him to talk.
For many seconds there was silence until the young man broke down and asked.
"Is it really so bad to marry a gentile woman?"
In tears he began to explain that he was in a terrible dilemma. He had been seeing a nice non-Jewish girl and a month ago they decided to marry. But his mother was anything but happy. In fact she kept crying and begging him not to do it which pained his conscience.
But on the other hand he had his own life to live and could not allow his mother's tears to ruin it. He was confused.
That entire night Rabbi Barkhan sat and explained the uniqueness of the Jewish people and of how he remembered this young man's mother making so many sacrifices to keep a Jewish home in Communist Russia.
And after all this, after Jews had suffered for thousands of years not to leave Judaism he was throwing it all away for personal considerations.
His words had an effect and when the sun came up the young man called his mother and promised that he would break the engagement and look for a Jewish girl.
But Rabbi Natan's work had just begun. For the next few days he made a lot of inquiries, until he heard about a young Jewish girl just the right age, arranged a meeting between them, reported everything back to the office of the Rebbe (adding a few desperate requests for prayers and blessings) and returned to Israel.
Two years later Rabbi Barkhan received an envelope in the mail containing with an invitation to the wedding of the match he had made - with the 'help'
of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and a round trip ticked to Brazil.
His self-sacrifice paid off.
This is what Pinchas teaches us:
The greatness of Pinchas was not that he killed 'Zimri' but rather that he was willing to risk everything (in this case even his life) for what was right - just as Rabbi Barkhan dropped everything when the Rebbe told him 'Brazil'.
And even more, both Pinchas and Rabbi Barkhan devoted themselves completely to the task without any regard for themselves or ulterior motives.
Self-sacrifice pays off.
And 'killing' does not necessarily mean bloodshed. it can also mean 'killing' improper desires, habits or goals. Like the Rabbi in our story did to the young man.
This is the vital and living message of Pinchas, indeed of the entire Torah:
Each and every one of us can make major changes in the world through self-sacrifice.
In fact the Lubavitcher Rebbe informed us that G-d is waiting for our self-sacrifice this very moment and every moment:
He said "Do everything in your power to bring Moshiach".
It is in our power! And as soon as a person just begins, G-d gives infinite assistance and new powers to do things we never thought possible.
WE CAN change this world into a blessing by just devoting ourselves to do EVEN ONE good deed. (See the last chapter of the Moshiach essay for details at www.ohrtmimim.org/torah).
Before we know it we will see that Elijah the prophet has already arrived and announced the arrival of the Moshiach. And the world has been transformed into a paradise of good, Peace and brotherhood. With....
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