Not So Simple, Not So Mundane
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
G-d told Moshe, "Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the
priest, stopped My anger towards the children of Israel because he
was zealous on My behalf ..." (Bamidbar 25:10-11)
Well, that changes EVERYTHING. Had Pinchas been jealous on his OWN
behalf, then, it is not so clear that G-d would have intervened on
his behalf and saved him from the oncoming posse. Such is the power
'Lishmah' translates as, "for the sake of the Name," that is, for the
sake of G-d. It should also be the goal of every individual, to get
to the point where he or she does what they do just for the sake of
pleasing G-d. As mature as one may become, still, one must always
focus on pleasing their Father in Heaven.
So central to life is that that the Talmud states:
All who perform 'lo lishmah' (i.e., for non-spiritual reasons) are
better off never having been created. (Brochos 17a)
That is a pretty harsh statement for a world of people who have
difficulty being one-hundred percent altruistic ... especially in a
world that can be so pleasurable! If it were completely true, then,
it would be a very lonely world for the very few who can serve G-d
just to please him.
Fortunately, the Talmud adds in several places:
A person should always be involved with Torah and mitzvos, even if
not for altruistic reasons, for this will bring him to lishmah.
However, this is not a 180-degree turn in the Talmud's way of
thinking, implying that any kind of mitzvah performance is good
enough for G-d. Rather, the concluding statement of the Talmud just
quoted is what qualifies its opening sentence: lo lishmah is only
acceptable as a means of bringing one in the direction of lishmah.
For example, there is a mitzvah to eat challah on Shabbos. Now, if a
person makes the mistake of coming into Shabbos without an appetite,
then, eating the Challah is less likely to satisfy his own desire
more than it will satisfy the legal requirement. On the other hand,
if a person comes into Shabbos ravenous and anxious to eat, then, he
may end up eating away the mitzvah while satisfying his own palate.
This is why many people have the practice of saying, "This is to
honor the holy Shabbos" before partaking of anything enjoyable on
Now, there is no sin to enjoy that which is permissible in this
world. Just the opposite -- we will be asked why we DIDN'T enjoy that
which we could have. Rather, the 'sin' comes from making PHYSICAL
pleasure the goal in life, and SPIRITUAL success a by-product, when,
it really should be the other way around.
In other words, eating challah and anything enjoyable in this world
is an inevitable result of being made physical, and takes little, if
any free-will at all to do so. You won't get to Heaven and be told,
"Wow! That was amazing how you enjoyed that chocolate ice-cream cake
on an empty stomach ... And, how noble it was of you to eat that
hamburger and French fries after that fast day! Here is all your
eternal reward for doing so!"
However, aligning one's intentions with G-d's intentions for
something to be done, on the other hand, takes all the free-will with
which we have been empowered -- especially when there are physical
reasons to enjoy what we are about to do. It is for doing THIS that
the angels roll out the red carpet for us once we get to Heaven, and
for which we receive our portion in the World-to-Come.
No doubt Pinchas hated to kill anyone. No doubt Pinchas enjoyed
righting wrong. However, no doubt that had Pinchas acted selfishly on
any level he would have lost the merit of Divine protection, and, his
act of zealousness would have been tarnished, just as had been the
case of Shimon and Levi in Shechem (Bereishis 34:25).
It may be difficult to be altruistic in what we do, especially when
so many good things come to us as result. For example, being a rabbi
can sound so spiritual, but, it can also be very self-serving when
one considers all the respect due to a person of this walk in life.
Today, in some congregations, the salaries for rabbis can rival that
of many top professions!
However, unless serving Hashem 'lishmah' is the immediate goal, then,
a person will be doomed to stay on the level of 'lo lishmah,' and
cease to justify his or her existence. It is one's drive to serve G-d
for 'His sake' that acts as a spiritual foil for all we do, making us
feel uncomfortable when our actions become self-serving and physical
pleasure becomes a goal unto itself. Corruption can only follow, and
with it, a very severe judgment from Heaven.
G-d told Moshe, "Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon...
It is always amazing to see how Sod looks at a posuk. So many times,
it seems as if a posuk has nothing more to teach than what it is
saying on the pshat -- simplest -- level of understanding, until
someone like the Arizal comes and shows us the deeper level.
For example, the posuk says:
G-d told Moshe, "Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon...
What more can this posuk be teaching us than Pinchas's lineage?
According to Rabbi Chaim Vital, who learned it from his teacher and
master, the Arizal, there is this to learn (my explanations are in
"Regarding Eliyahu, my teacher said that he is alluded to in the
posuk, 'If [one is drawn] to scoffers, he will scoff; but if to the
humble, he will find favor' (Mishlei 3:34), since the head-letters
spell 'Eliyahu chai' ('Eliyahu lives') ..."
(That is, in the original Hebrew verse, the first letters of the
words of the posuk quoted, when combined, spell the Hebrew words,
"Eliyahu chai." Thus, in this verse, which seems to have little to do
with Eliyahu himself, hint to him, according to the Arizal.)
"The Zohar says (Ray'ah Mehemna, Bereishis 25b; 253) that, though
Moshe Rabbeinu was the teacher of all of Israel, his interpreter was
Aharon HaKohen, as it says, 'He will be a mouth for you' (Shemos
4:16), since Moshe had a 'heavy mouth' and 'heavy tongue.'"
(As the Torah states, Moshe received the prophecy from G-d, but, it
was Aharon his brother he told it to Paroah in Egypt.)
"In the 'End of Days' in the generation of Moshiach, Moshe will
return to teach Torah to Israel, and will still be of 'uncircumcised
lips.' However, Eliyahu, who will 'chai,' will be his interpreter ..."
(This is hard to believe, since one would expect Moshe's stutter to
have been rectified by the Days of Moshiach. However, if one
understands Moshe's 'problem' as being that he was on too high a
level to communicate with the lowly Paroah -- which is how Kabbalah
understands it -- then, it would make sense that in Yemos HaMoshiach,
he would be on an even higher level and thus in need of an
interpreter even in Yemos HaMoshiach.)
"... And this is the sod of the posuk, 'Pinchas son of Elazar son of
Aharon HaKohen' (Bamidbar 25:11)."
(That is, Pinchas, who later became Eliyahu the prophet, will later
be Moshe's interpreter as Aharon, he ancestor was.)
"This is as it is written, 'If [one is drawn] to scoffers, he will
scoff' (Mishlei 4:37): when they will need a translator for Moshe,
Eliyahu who will be 'chai' will translate and be Moshe's
interpreter." (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Chapter 36)
(The word 'yalitz' can mean 'scoff' or 'interpret,' and thus the
posuk from Mishlei not only alludes to Eliyahu through its letters,
but, in its deeper meaning as well.)
Thus, the first verse of this week's parshah not only hints to a much
deeper meaning, but, it also alludes to a vision of the future as
well. When Moshe Rabbeinu will return to his people once again
(elsewhere the Arizal states in the body of Moshiach, that is, the
body will 'ben Dovid's,' but, the soul will be Moshe's), and continue
teaching the Jewish people.
It only goes to show you once again that you can't judge a posuk by
its simple meaning, nor a person by their outward physical
appearance. And, the events of history are about as random as single
notes on the sheet music of a Beethoven symphony -- and even less so
when it comes to Divine Providence.
... A convocation it will be to you. (Bamidbar 29:35)
The Midrash explains:
All the days of the holiday they offered sacrifices corresponding to
the Seventy Nations. When they were about to leave, G-d told them, "I
request from you that you make me a small meal for Me to enjoy from
This is why, explains the Midrash, that the holiday of Shemini
Atzeres comes on the heels of the seven days of Succos, and why, for
the seven days we bring a total of seventy sacrifices while on the
eighth day, we bring only on behalf of the Jewish people.
It also teaches you something very important, and that is, before we,
the Jewish people, can enjoy a quiet and peaceful relationship with
G-d, we have to first bring peace to the world. The beautiful thing
about Temple times was that we could do THAT without even having to
leave our land, indeed, even Jerusalem! Sacrifices brought on behalf
of the Seventy Nations was enough to keep mankind at bay, and leave
the Jewish people free to pursue higher spiritual planes.
Ironically, it is just the opposite today. Rather than the Jewish
people working on behalf of the nations, the nations are working on
behalf of the Jewish people (or so they claim, sometimes). And,
rather than first bring peace to the world so we can learn Torah in
peace in Eretz Yisroel, they are trying to first bring peace to
Israel so they can do their own thing in their lands.
It is not a coincidence, either. It is as the Talmud says and the
Rambam reminds: If the Jewish people pursue spiritual goals, then,
The Holy One, Blessed is He, will take care of our physical
well-being. If we become overly involved with our physical
well-being, especially to the exclusion of spirituality, then, the
system breaks down and even reverses itself, as it has done.
Not only this, but, there is no special 'atzeres' for the Jewish
people either. Shemini Atzeres is called the 'Eighth Day,' even
though it is an independent holiday, because it is, conceptually at
least, attached to the holiday of Succos. In other words, our
accomplishment on Succos is what makes the endearment of Shemini
Atzeres a reality. We may still observe the holiday as usual, but, it
is more a reminder of what is supposed to be, than what actually
For our generation, this is hard to relate to. We are used to being a
tiny little nation that makes up about one percent of the world's
population. We are used to being less respected than the rest of the
Western World, like a rambunctious child that has to be monitored and
told how to behave on an ongoing basis. And worse than this, we are
looked upon as the bully on the block when we have been trying to be
anything but that.
This is one of things that we can look forward to once the Third and
Final Temple arrives, a rectification of the order of protocol.
First, the Jewish people as a whole will redevelop their yearning for
Torah and spiritual values. Then, we will grow in wisdom and unity
and gain the respect of the nations once again. When this happens,
they will realize that peace in the world depends upon service of G-d
in the Temple, and, performing this service will restore peace to the
And finally, at long last, we will be free once again to learn Torah
and pursue a deeper relationship with G-d, without distraction and
Part Six: Yemos HaMoshiach, Continued
As mentioned last week, the focus of Yemos HaMoshiach, once evil has
become a thing of the past, is purification of the bodies. The
reversal of the sin of Adam HaRishon means moving spiritually upward
and becoming more light-like than physical. It is to go from Kesones
Ohr (AYIN-vav-raish) to Kesones Ohr (ALPEH-vav-raish) -- from bodies
made of skin to bodies made from light.
This is an automatic result of the increasing Presence of G-d in
reality. As G-d allows the spiritual veils that 'hid' His face for
millennia from most men to spiritually dissolve, His light that
nourishes and sustains creation will become increasingly obvious and
What is actually happening is not as it sounds. It sounds as if
creation is remaining stationary, and, the Divine Presence is
descending closer to us. In fact, in reality, just the opposite is
happening, and THAT is the true reversal of the sin of Adam HaRishon.
In other words, the lowest Sefiros in the chain of Ten Sefiros --
Malchus (Kingdom) -- having been 'built' and rectified through
Moshiach and the transformation of mankind to a much higher level of
spiritual recognition, begins to ascend in the direction of the light
of 'Ain Sof' (literally, 'Without End'), the highest emanation of
G-d's light to which we attach a Name.
As a result, though, in the beginning of this period we will function
quite normally, that is, as we did prior to Moshiach's arrival, as
the Sefiros move upward and creation becomes more spiritual, bodily
functions will cease to have importance. This is the level to which
Moshe Rabbeinu himself reached when G-d 'passed by' him on Har Sinai,
while he hid in the cleft of the rock (Shemos 33:22). This is what
allowed the rays of light to emanate from him.
The rabbis say that when Moshe reached this level of spirituality, he
became part angel, and, as a result, no longer had to eat food. It
was not that he did not require nourishment. Rather, like the rest of
us, he DID require sparks of holiness to keep his soul and body
together. However, unlike the rest of us, he did not have to work
through the physical word (food) to receive them, but, had direct
access to the necessary sparks as if they were in the air all around
That is the level to which those living in Yemos HaMoshiach will
reach, and, as a result, more than likely bodily organs will begin to
disappear. Who will need them when food becomes manna-like, never
requiring digestion or rejection of any of its parts?
Those whose pleasure comes primarily through the physical world may
be alarmed by this new spiritual reality. They will wonder, if one's
ability to 'interact' with the world around on a physical level is
reduced and then removed, what pleasure can life thereafter provide.
The answer, of course, is that physical pleasure is one of the lowest
levels of pleasure that exist. However, it is also the only one with
which we are most familiar; true and ultimate pleasure resides beyond
the imagination of most people, especially at this very late and
quite sensuous stage of history.
However, as the prophets teach, the world will become filled with
much greater and higher levels of understanding. Just like the path
of the 'Ba'al Teshuvah' (literally, 'Master of Repentance') changes
dramatically as his knowledge of Torah increases, and, his priorities
in life become altered as his feeling for spirituality is enhanced,
so much more so will this be the case for all who merit to live in
the period of Moshiach.
In fact, not too long ago I overheard a conversation about a young
boy who was about to have an operation to allow him to hear. Born
with the problem, he has never been able to hear and differentiate
more than two tones. However, G-d willing, after the operation, he
will be able to hear a whole spectrum of tones that most of us take
completely for granted, and finally learn how to hear, and, b"H,
Those listening in were straining to try to relate to what it will
feel like for this boy, who, for two decades, never really understood
how many sounds exist in creation. We marveled at the technological
breakthrough, but, we marveled more at how the boy's life, b"H, and
his ability to enjoy will be so greatly enhanced.
Surely his amazement of the new world he will discover and begin to
understand will take him away from many of the pleasures he used to
occupy his time with, given his limited ability to enjoy life. In
fact, a simple conversation with someone he can hear and talk to may
be the highlight of his day for weeks, if not months!
This is what will happen in Yemos HaMoshiach, and then some. The
world will simply taste better, on its own. Our ability to 'taste' it
will become greatly improved. However, more importantly, spiritual
abilities we never knew we possessed will begin to surface and
dominate our lives and perspectives. We will become psychic, but even
that will only be the beginning, for, in its wake will return
prophecy, and man will once again talk directly to G-d.
I often ask my students (and myself) on occasion, "What would be
different about your life and the way you live it if you could talk
with G-d on a somewhat regular basis"
There is usually a period of silence, followed by answers that seem
to flow from a deeper part of the person, not from their bodies but
from their souls. And, for the period of time the discussion lasts
(and maybe some time after), all mundane activities and distractions
become things of the past, and a new 'energy' can be felt amongst
people that might even still be strangers to one another. It is an
energy that elevates and excites on a spiritual level, and, one which
results in feelings for unity and higher purposes in life.
Unfortunately, at this stage of history, the energy is quickly zapped
upon returning to the 'outside world.' However, just imagine what it
will be like when the 'outside world' finally becomes the same as in
the inside one ...