Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Hashem, in the beginning of parshas Pinchas, promises Pinchas
eternal reward for having killed Zimri and his co-conspirator Kozbi
and thus prevented the Jewish nation from falling further into sin with
the Moabite women (25:11):
Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aaron the Kohen removed
My wrath from the Children of Israel by avenging My
vengeance among them, so that I did not destroy the
Children of Israel with My vengeance.
What is the idea of Pinchas, "avenging Hashem's vengeance?" Rashi
writes (ibid.): "He (Pinchas) became enraged (when in fact) I should
have been the One Who was angry!" What does Rashi mean? If
Hashem should have been angry, why indeed didn't He get angry?
And what's the idea of Pinchas somehow embodying the anger of
Hashem, as if he is in some way taking Hashem's place?
The Belzer Rebbe zt"l offers a most exquisite explanation of the entire
episode: In last week's parsha Bilaam is hired by Balak, King of
Moab, to curse the Jewish nation. Rashi (Bamidbar/Numbers 23:8)
explains that while the curses of Bilaam themselves had no special
power, Bilaam's expertise was that he was able to determine when
Hashem was angry. When Hashem is angry, the time is ripe for
anyone, including Bilaam, to utter a potentially damaging curse.
It is written (Tehillim/Psalms 7:12), "G-d gets angry every day." How
long, asks the Gemara (Berachos 7a), is Hashem's anger? Just one
moment, as it is written (Ibid. 30:6), "For His anger lasts a moment."
Bilaam was the only human ever able to divine the moment of
Hashem's anger; thus, the danger of his curses.
"Remember, My nation, what Balak King of Moab schemed against
you, and what Bilaam son of Be'or answered him... that you may
recognize the kindness of Hashem. (Michah 6:5)" The Gemara (ibid.)
says that this refers to the fact that for the entire period during which
Bilaam attempted to curse the Jews, Hashem avoided even the
standard, daily, "moment-of-rage," thus foiling Bilaam's plans.
How are we to understand the concept that, "Hashem gets angry
once a day?" We don't usually think of anger as something one plans
out in an organized fashion. Imagine if a teacher were to tell his class,
"Okay boys, I'm telling you now: Once a day I'm going to get really
angry. It doesn't matter whether you're good or bad - I'm still going to
get angry once a day. And I'm not going to tell you when..." Now,
while the analogy to the teacher may not be perfect, for there has
likely not been a day since the creation of the Earth that man has not
done something (or many things) deserving of Hashem's wrath, all
the same, the idea of a once-a-day pre-arranged rage seems strange.
First we must understand that Hashem is the source of everything,
both physical and metaphysical. Every aspect of creation contains
both the potential for good and bad. Take anger for example: While
in general considered a "bad" trait, consider a world completely
devoid of anger. Anger is often the catalyst for positive, necessary
change. Without anger, we would not have the ability to arouse
ourselves to take a stand against evil. Without some form of anger,
people would have free rein to do whatever they pleased without
having to fear punishment or retribution. Hashem created anger, just
like He created trees and mountains. It is up to us to decide how we
are to utilize this aspect of creation.
The Gemara (ibid. 5a) makes note of another critical use of anger:
"One should always enrage one's Yetzer Ha-tov (good disposition)
against one's Yetzer Ha-ra (bad disposition)." Basically, our ability to
do battle with the evil inside ourselves also takes the form of anger.
Arousing oneself to change, an inherently difficult task due to the
complacent nature of man, is accomplished by "enraging" our desire
to do good against the bad within us.
It is for this reason that Hashem must express anger once a day:
Since He is the source of anger (as He is the source of everything),
were He not to give expression to some form of anger Himself, we
would lose touch with the concept of anger, which could have a
negative impact on our ability to overcome our inner evils.
With this, we gain a far deeper understanding of Bilaam's cunning.
He realized, to his surprise, that Hashem was avoiding His "moment-
of-wrath" in order to foil Bilaam's plans to curse the Jews. Ever sly,
Bilaam realized that if Hashem wasn't getting angry, then there was
a general lack of anger in the atmosphere, thus impeding the Jews'
ability to battle their base desires. If you can't beat 'em - the saying
goes - join 'em. So Bilaam took a different tack: He gave up on
cursing the Jews, instead taking advantage of their inherent weakness
to entice them to sin. He thus suggested to Balak that the Moabite
women might prove a temptation too great for the Jews, in their
present state, to overcome.
Indeed, his plans bore fruit. The Jewish nation, who in Egypt had
managed to completely avoid any form of intermarriage (see Rashi
Vayikra/Leviticus 24:11), now found itself unable to resist temptation,
and began intermingling. Twenty-four thousand Jews died as a result
of their sin.
Pinchas realized that the plague would not stop unless the Jews
somehow regained their ability to overcome their desires. Yet since
this was dependent on Hashem's anger - which at this moment was
impossible due to Bilaam's threat - what could be done to rectify the
situation before all was lost? Pinchas searched within himself for
some form of anger which he could bring to expression. With great
sacrifice and effort, he grasped onto a thread, and built upon it, until
he was able with tremendous wrath and fury to pursue Zimri and his
co-conspirator and vengefully kill them with his spear. Pinchas, as
Rashi says, got angry with the anger Hashem should have had -
thereby re-infusing the world with a source of "holy anger," and
putting a stop to the sin and its resultant plague.
So, the next time you want to get angry about something which really
may not be worth it, stop for a moment and consider that it's a
shame to waste one's anger over small issues, when in fact we could
be using it to avoid sin and improve our character and ourselves.
Have a good Shabbos.
This week's publication has been sponsored by
Mrs. Pauline Rubinstein, in memory of her mother Elka
bas R' Pinchas HaLevi, and in memory of her father
Binyamin Ze'ev ben R' Hirsch Tzvi HaLevi.
Text Copyright © 2002 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.