The period between the Fast of the 17th of Tamuz and Tishah B'Av
is known in halachah as "Bein Ha'metzarim" / "Between the Troubles."
During this period, we mourn the destruction of both the First and
However, writes R' Eliezer Ze'ev Rosenbaum z"l hy"d (the
Nadvorner-Kretchnif Rebbe in Sighet; killed in the Holocaust),
chassidic works teach that there is also a reason for optimism during
this period. We read in Eichah (1:3), "All rodfehah / her pursuers
hi'seeguhah / overtook her bein ha'metzarim." The word "rodfehah" /
"her pursuers" can be read "rodfei-Kah" / "Those who pursue G-d."
(The "K" in "Kah" is inserted to avoid pronouncing G-d's Name, but it
is not part of the word.) Those who pursue G-d during this period can
"overtake" Him. Also, "hi'seeguhah" can mean "grasped it," in the
sense of grasping a deep concept. Those who pursue G-d during this
period can grasp deep spiritual levels.
How can this be? How can a period of such sorrow be an
opportunity for joyful attainments? R' Rosenbaum explains with two
First, when is it easier for the common man to approach a king -
when he is in his palace or when he is traveling? Presumably, when he
is traveling. Similarly, it is easier for us to approach G-d when He
is in exile from His "home," the Temple, so-to-speak.
Also, imagine a father who, G-d forbid, lost many of his
children. Whenever the father recalls that tragedy, he will feel
closer to his surviving offspring. Similarly, when G-d mourns, so-to-
speak, over the Destruction, He brings Himself closer to us. (Raza
"Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aharon the Kohen, turned back
My wrath from upon Bnei Yisrael when he zealously avenged Me
among them, so I did not consume Bnei Yisrael in My
Chazal comment: "Justice requires that Pinchas receive his
What does this mean? asks R' Yitzchak Yaakov Reines z"l (rosh
yeshiva in Lida, Poland and founder of Mizrachi). Might we think that
Pinchas should not be rewarded? Believing that G-d reward and
punishes is one of the fundamental beliefs of our faith!
He explains: We read in Yirmiyah (50:17), "Yisrael is like a
scattered lamb." The Midrash Rabbah asks, "In what way is Yisrael
like a lamb?" The sage Chizkiyah answers in the Midrash, "Just as a
lamb that is hit on one limb hurts all over, so when one limb of
Yisrael (i.e., one person) is hurting, all of Yisrael is in pain."
The Midrash continues that the sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai
illustrated the importance of Jewish unity in another way. Imagine
several people sitting on a rowboat. Suddenly, one pulls a drill out
of his pocket and begins boring a hole under his seat. The other
passengers will surely yell at him, "What are you doing?" Can he
rightfully answer, "It is none of your business; I am only drilling
under my seat"? Of course he cannot.
R' Reines writes: Both sages, Chizkiyah and Rabbi Shimon,
acknowledge the importance of unity. What then is the difference
between their two analogies? Chizkiyah's illustration refers to unity
based on emotional attachment. If one Jew is hurting, all should be
in pain. In contrast, Rabbi Shimon's analogy is based on reason, on
the recognition that one Jew's improper act can harm all Jews. (For
example, writes R' Reines, world opinion often condemns all Jews for
one Jew's act.) We are all "sailing in the same boat." If the boat
sinks, G-d forbid, we will all drown.
Pinchas' killing of Zimri was an emotional act. We know this
because it is the source of the halachah that, for certain sins, a
zealot may take the law into his own hands and execute the offender.
The law is that if the "zealot" comes to bet din / court and asks
whether he should take the law into his own hands, he is told, No!
There is no doubt that one who commits a Zimri-like act harms the
Jewish people whether his act is judged rationally or emotionally.
Nevertheless, the law that "A zealot may strike him down" applies only
when the zealot feels the collective pain of the Jewish People, not
when he has concluded rationally that the Jewish People may be harmed
by the sinner's act. On the other hand, when a court-appointed agent
administers lashes or executes a murderer, he may not act emotionally;
he must act rationally.
Since Pinchas acted emotionally, emotion clearly requires that he
be rewarded. However, the Midrash says, justice, i.e., reason, also
requires that he be rewarded [for in the final analysis, he saved Bnei
(Sefer Ha'arachim: Gmul Va'onesh)
"May Hashem, Elokei Ha'ruchot / G-d of the spirits of all
flesh, appoint a man over the assembly." (27:16)
R' Zusia of Annipol z"l (died 1800; a leading figure in the early
chassidic movement) asks: Why specifically in this context does Moshe
call G-d "Elokei Ha'ruchot" / "G-d of the spirits"? He explains:
We read in Malachi (2:21): "For the lips of a kohen should
safeguard knowledge, and they should seek Torah from his mouth, for he
is an angel of Hashem, Master of Legions." The Gemara (Mo'ed Kattan
17a) comments on this verse: "If a teacher is similar to an angel,
learn from him. If not, do not learn from him." But we have never
met angels! How can we know if our teachers are similar to angels?
R' Zusia explains: Since we have never met angels, we obviously have
never had occasion to ask them to prove themselves. Nevertheless, we
believe they exist. Similarly, a fitting teacher is someone whom you
would never think of asking to prove himself. Rather, his
righteousness must be self-evident to you.
In light of this explanation, continues R' Zusia, we can
understand our verse. We read in Tehilim (104:4): "He makes His
angels ruchot." We see that angels are referred to as "ruchot."
Moshe's request, addressed to G-d as "Elokei Ha'ruchot," can thus be
understood as follows: "Appoint a man over the assembly who will be
viewed by Bnei Yisrael as an angel."
Rashi writes of the phrase "Elokei Ha'ruchot": "Why is this
expression used? Moshe said to Hashem, `Lord of the Universe! The
dispositions of everyone are manifest to You, and You know that they
are similar one to the other. Appoint a leader for them who will bear
with each person according to his disposition."
R' Yehonatan Eyebschutz z"l (rabbi in Prague, Metz and Hamburg;
author of classical works of halachah, Torah commentary and sermons;
died 1764) asks: Why did Moshe make this request for Yehoshua's
benefit and never for his own benefit? He explains:
Why do different people have different opinions and different
perspectives? It is because they have different souls. However, the
Zohar states that Moshe's soul included the souls of all of the Jewish
people. Thus, the request Moshe made here would not have been
applicable to himself.
In this light we can understand a surprising midrash which states
that Mordechai was in his generation like Moshe was in his generation.
How so? We read of Mordechai (Esther 10:3), "For Mordechai the Jew
was viceroy to King Achasveirosh; he was a great man among the Jews,
and found favor with the multitude of his brethren; he sought the good
of his people and was concerned for the welfare of all his posterity."
How was this possible? How could Mordechai have found favor with all
Jews, given the proliferation of opinions and perspectives among the
Jewish people? The answer is that Mordechai was, in his generation,
like Moshe was in his generation, i.e., his soul included the souls of
all of the Jewish people.
(Ya'arot Devash II No. 17)
R' Avraham Yehoshua Heschel z"l
(The "Kapischnitzer Rebbe")
R' Avraham Yehoshua Heschel was born on 4 Iyar 5648 / 1888 and
was named for his illustrious ancestor of the same name, better known
as the "Ohev Yisrael" / "The one who loves Jews" of Apta. The father
of the younger R' A.Y. was the first rebbe of Kapischnitz, having
moved there in 1894.
With the outbreak of World War I, R' A.Y.'s family, like
thousands of others, fled the front and resettled in Vienna. R' A.Y.
himself could be seen every day at the Vienna train station, carrying
the luggage of broken refugees and helping them to their
accommodations. Later, he would secretly deliver money and food to
On the first day of Rosh Hashanah 5697 (1936), R' A.Y. succeeded
his father as the rebbe of the Kapischnitzer chassidim. However,
despite his new responsibilities, his performance of acts of charity
and chessed did not wane. Often there were two long lines outside his
door--one made up of those waiting to seek his blessing and give him a
pidyon (the monetary gift traditionally given to a rebbe); the other
made up of those waiting to receive charity.
With the Nazi takeover of Austria, R' A.Y., like many other
rebbes, was forced to sweep streets. However, when the Nazis saw that
the rebbe was not humiliated, they released him. R' A.Y. later
explained his feelings at that time as follows:
What was the nature of the test with which G-d tried Avraham at
the akeidah / binding of Yitzchak? Who would not listen to a direct
command of G-d? The answer is that Avraham would gladly have
sacrificed his own life at G-d's command. However, to see the
suffering of another (i.e., Yitzchak), even when one knows that it is
G-d's will, that is a difficult test.
In 1939, R' A.Y. arrived in New York, settled on the Lower East
Side of Manhattan, and immediately threw himself into rescue work.
After the Holocaust also, he devoted himself to caring for orphans and
other refugees, including establishing an orphanage in Petach Tikvah.
Because of these and other deeds, R' Aharon Kotler used to say of him,
"He is the gadol hador in tzedakah and chessed." Another admirer was
the Ponovezher Rav, who said that since the Chafetz Chaim died, there
was no one whom he (the Ponovezher Rav) considered to be his rebbe
until he met R' A.Y..
R' A.Y. welcomed all types of people, no matter how strange their
behavior. For example, when one of his frequent guests said that it
was not right that the rebbe was always served first, R' A.Y. placed
the man's chair next to his own at the head of the table and asked
that they be served simultaneously.
R' A.Y. passed away on 16 Tamuz 5727 / 1967. (The Golden Dynasty
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