A Bunch of Mad Men
G-d told Moshe, “Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon HaKohen,
stopped My anger towards the Children of Israel because he was zealous on
My behalf, which prevented Me from destroying them because of jealousy.”
This week’s parshah brings up the issue of kana’ot (zealousness). Being a
zealot is tricky business, because it is far easier to do it wrong than to
do it right. On the surface of it, what Shimon and Levi did in Shechem
seems exactly like what Pinchas did in Shittim. Yet, Ya’akov scolded them
for their anger, and their act almost resulted in a premature war with the
Amorites and the early destruction of the Jewish people. However, Pinchas
was not only praised for his act of zealousness, he was handsomely
rewarded for it as well.
Even more curious is how, in the eyes of the Shevatim, Shimon and Levi
appeared like heroes when they avenged the honor of their family against
Shechem and his city, whereas the Shevatim had come to lynch Pinchas after
he had performed his act of zealousness against Zimri. That is why G-d
intervened in this week’s parshah on his behalf, to set the record
straight before the eyes of the entire nation.
It is also not only a case of who, but also of when, as the following
Our Rabbis taught: When Rebi Yosi ben Kisma fell ill, Rabbi Chanina ben
Teradion went to visit him. He said to him, "Chanina, my brother, do you
not know that this nation has been placed in power by G-d Himself, for she
has destroyed His house, burned His Temple, killed His pious ones, and
caused His good ones to perish, and still continues to rule! Yet, I have
heard that you sit and study Torah and gather crowds in public with a
Torah Scroll resting on your lap!" (Avodah Zarah 18a)
What did Rebi Yosi ben Kisma mean? We know that there is a mitzvah to
teach Torah and not change from our lives of mitzvot, particularly during
times of “shmad” (religious persecution). Then, even if a Jew is asked to
tie his shoelace in order to make a mockery of Judaism one must die
instead; how much more so must he keep learning and teaching Torah during
such times! So, what did Rebi Yosi ben Kisma warn his student about?
To appreciate the answer to this question, we have to first recall that
the basis of zealousness on behalf of G-d is the mitzvah of Kiddush
Hashem, the mitzvah to sanctify the Name of G-d. As such, then a mitzvah
of kana’ot generates kedushah (holiness), and as good as that sounds, it
can be problematic, especially in a place where the Klipot (the forces of
impurity) are strong.
For example, we are not allowed to even think about Torah while in the
bathroom. The bathroom is an impure place, which means that the Klipot, or
the Gevurot, are strong there. To increase kedushah there would be to
directly feed the Klipot and make them stronger, not a good thing at all.
That is one of their domains in Creation, so why go in there with kedushah
guns firing if they are only going to catch those bullets and digest them,
and get stronger?
This is one of the reasons why Moshe Rabbeinu was told not to pray by the
sea. At that time, as the scene revealed, the Klipot were strong and
flying all around. All the kedushah that would have been generated by the
prayers of Moshe Rabbeinu, and that is a lot of kedushah, would have only
strengthened the side of impurity at a time that the Jewish people needed
to weaken them. So, G-d had Moshe Rabbeinu stop his praying, and instead
commanded the Jewish people to enter the sea and split it in the merit of
their bitachon (trust in G-d).
This is what Yosi ben Kisma was pointing out to Chanina ben Teradion: The
fact that the Romans have been so successful in their conquest of
Jerusalem and the Jewish people, and yet, have not suffered because it,
reveals just how strong the Klipot are at this time, and you want to
strengthen them with your acts of zealousness? Shimon and Levi did, and it
almost cost Ya’akov’s family their lives.
On the other hand, Pinchas also acted at a time that the Gevurot were very
strong, so why didn’t he feed the Klipot as well? To answer that question,
permit me to take a little detour first.
Moshe and Aharon assembled the people before the rock, and
said, “Listen you rebels! Will water come out of this rock?” (Bamidbar
Apparently not, for as the Midrash explains, the rock that was meant to
bring forth water, the Be’er Miriam, hid from Moshe amongst other rocks,
and was no longer recognizable. As a result, when Moshe first spoke to a
rock, as commanded by G-d, it did not bring forth water, since it was the
wrong rock. In the end, he was “forced” to hit the rock, after which it
finally responded to the amazement of all involved.
Except, of course, G-d, Who had been anything but impressed:
G-d told Moshe and Aharon, “Since you did not believe in Me to sanctify
Me before the Children of Israel, you will therefore not bring this people
into the land which I have given to them.” (Bamidbar 20:12)
There are various different explanations as to exactly what the Chillul
Hashem was, including lessening the miracle of hitting the rock to bring
forth water versus only speaking to it. Any time a lesser miracle is
performed than what could have been executed, the difference between the
two is called a “Chillul Hashem”, a profanation of G-d’s Name.
However, the rock hid on Moshe Rabbeinu, denying him the opportunity to
perform the greater miracle! Furthermore, what did Aharon HaKohen have to
do with anything, that he received the same severe punishment of dying in
the desert? And, while we’re on the topic, what did Eretz Yisroel have to
do with the Chillul Hashem, that not entering it was the measure-for-
measure punishment for hitting the rock?
All questions have the same answer:
Through anger a person truly becomes known, and you can really know him.
If his holy Neshamah is protected during times of anger, and it is not
uprooted from its place so that a stranger can replace it, then you know
that the person is good, that he serves his Master, and that he is
an “Adam Shalaim” — a “Complete Person”. If he is someone who does not
protect his Neshamah, and he uproots the upper holiness from its place to
allow the Sitra Achra to reside in its place, certainly this is someone
who rebels against his Master; it is forbidden to come close to such a
person. It is to this type of person that the verse refers, “You who tears
himself apart in his anger” (Iyov 18:4); he tears himself apart and
uproots his Neshamah in his anger, and a stranger dwells in its place.
(Zohar, Tetzaveh 182a)
The Jewish people, especially at times like this, are not easy to deal
with, to say the least. We are an intense people, and often that intensity
does not come out exactly the right way. It can be enough to drive a
leader bonkers, and certainly make him angry. The Jewish people definitely
did that to Moshe Rabbeinu on a few occasions, this occasion being one of
them, and it cost them the redemption.
However, as justified as anger may seem to be, says the Zohar, it
represents capitulation to the Sitra Achra, to the Klipot. And, when that
happens, kedushah has to hide to protect its precious cargo from the would-
be impure predators constantly hovering around during times of hester
panim, the hiding of G-d’s hand in history. Hence, the rock high-tailed it
out of there before Moshe was able to bring down the shefa, the Ohr Ain
Sof, the light of G-d that was meant to turn into water as it flowed from
This is why the Torah does not merely tell us that Moshe Rabbeinu got
angry, but it even tells us what he called them, “Rebels!” The fact that
the word was able to leave his mouth indicated a lack of control over the
situation, something that Aharon helped convey by standing at Moshe
Rabbeinu’s side as all this took place, and that was exactly the opposite
message G-d had set up, as the final message to the Jewish people before
entering Eretz Yisroel.
For, regarding Eretz Yisroel, the Torah states:
For, the land you are about to possess is not like Egypt from where you
came, and in which, if you sowed seeds, you had to bring water to them as
you would for a garden of green herbs. The land you are about to possess
has mountains and deep valleys, and is watered by rain from the sky — a
land which G-d, your G-d, cares for, G-d, your G-d pays attention to
continuously the entire year. (Devarim 11:11-12)
Translation: When it comes to Eretz Yisroel, G-d is always there running
the show, and everything that happens there is for the good. Even if it
looks crazy and destructive and totally against what one might think G-d
wants to happen, He is still there, directly involved, and it will always
work out for the good in the end. Panic and anger only complicate matters,
drawing into the picture the Klipot, forcing G-d, for our own good, to
bring the shefa to us through a backdoor means, to protect it from the
impure forces that hover over it like vultures to pounce on it.
Thus, on his deathbed, Ya’akov Avinu chastises not his sons but their
“Shimon and Levi are brothers. Their means of acquisition are
instruments of violence. My spirit will not enter into their councils; my
honor, do not be identified in their assemblies. For in their anger they
murdered men, and of their own free-will they maimed an ox. Cursed be
their anger, for it is fierce, and their frenzy, for it is harsh. I will
divide them throughout Ya’akov, and will disperse them throughout
Israel.” (Bereishit 49:5-7)
For, because of their personal rage, the Klipot entered Shechem with them.
Worst, Shechem was home to the Klipot already, so when they entered it in
anger, they compounded the problem, and all the Kiddush Hashem they tried
to create resulted in Chillul Hashem instead, feeding the Klipot by
strengthening them, until it resulted in the Amorites assembling their
armies to go to war against Ya’akov and his family. Had G-d not
intervened, Ya’akov later said, it would have been the end of the Jewish
Cast out anger from your heart, and [by doing this] remove evil from
your flesh. (Kohelet 12:10)
One thing is for sure: Pinchas did not work alone. According to the
Midrash, Zimri, the prince of the tribe of Shimon, had been well-
protected. Pinchas had to first make it past his bodyguards in order to
perform his act of zealousness, and do so precisely at the right moment.
Had he speared Zimri before or after the forbidden act, he would have been
guilty of murder, not zealousness, anger or no anger. He took quite a risk.
Therefore, the Talmud says:
Rebi Yochanan said: Six miracles happened for Pinchas. (Sanhedrin 82b)
Wow, six miracles? That’s a lot of Heavenly help to rely upon in such a
risky situation, which of course Pinchas had not done, for it is not
permissible to do so:
Rebi Yannai acted based upon his views, for he said, “A man should never
stand in a place of danger and say that a miracle will happen for him, in
case it doesn’t. And, if a miracle does occur for him, it is deducted from
his merits. (Shabbat 32a)
Rather, he simply took the risk to perform the mitzvah, and let Hashgochah
Pratit (Divine Providence) deal with it as it would. A risk that was
greatly reduced because:
G-d told Moshe, “Pinchas… stopped My anger …he was zealous on My
Hence, it was never about Pinchas’ own anger; that would have brought the
Klipot and kept the miracle away. It was about G-d’s anger, and when
Pinchas acted on behalf of it, not only did it keep the Klipot at bay, it
kept them away. As a result, the shefa of Ohr Ain Sof could “naturally”
flow earthward, enabling Pinchas to rectify Creation as Creation needed to
For, that is what kana’ot is all about: tikun. It is about the
rectification of the world, and drawing down Ohr Ain Sof to where it is
obviously not, apparent by the parade of Klipot in the world. However, if
personal anger is involved, then kana’ot will not only not sanctify the
Name of G-d, it will end up feeding the Klipot, strengthening them until
the Jewish people are at risk for an even greater onslaught from the side
Resh Lakish said, “A man who becomes angry, if he is a sage his wisdom
will leave him, and if he is a prophet his power of prophecy will forsake
him. The first instance is illustrated by the case of Moshe, as it is
written ‘And Moshe was angry with the officers of the host’ (Bamidbar
31:14) and later it says, ‘And Elazar the kohen said to the men of the
army who had gone to the battle, “This is the ordinance of the law which G-
d commanded Moshe…” ’ (Ibid. 21). Hence, the inference is that Elazar said
this because Moshe must have forgotten it. (Pesachim 66b)
Why? Because the wisdom itself is the result of the same flow of Ohr Ain
Sof, which must remain protected from the Klipot. To sustain the Klipot
for the sake of maintaining free-will, G-d has established a system by
which they get their due, but only their due. One thing you don’t want to
do is give them more than G-d wants them to have, otherwise it upsets the
balance and results in chaos in the universe.
Hence, the Rambam teaches:
Anger is an exceedingly bad trait and it is best that a person go to the
other extreme with this. He should teach himself not to become angry even
over something that it is fitting to be angry about. If he wants to
instill fear in the members of his household or in the members of the
community, being a leader he wants to cause them to improve, so he should
appear before them as if he is angry in order to chastise them, but in
fact, he should be at peace with himself like a person who is only acting
to be angry… Therefore, they have commanded us to distance ourselves from
anger even over things that cause anger; this is the proper trait. It is
the way of the righteous to be contrite, because the contrite do not hear
insults and therefore do not respond. (Yad Chazakah, Hilchot Dayot 2:3)
May it be Your Will, G-d, and the G-d of our Fathers, that no person will
be jealous of me and I won’t be jealous of them. May I not become angry
today and may I not anger You. Save me from the yetzer hara, and place in
my heart contriteness and humility… (Elokai Netzor, Shemonah Esrai)
Hence, Rebi Yosi ben Kisma’s question to his student: He told him, “Look
at the situation today. The Klipot are everywhere and walk the streets as
if they own them. They have grown so strong in spiritual power that they
have been able to destroy the House of G-d, and seemingly, with impunity.
That is the stage on which you are teaching Torah in public, and like
Moshe Rabbeinu before you at the shore of the sea, you may be throwing up
kedushah for the Klipot to grab for the taking. Therefore, you better make
very sure you know what you are doing, and that the kedushah you are
generating is in fact, very protected.”
Therefore, Rebi Chanina responded:
"How am I as far as the World to Come is concerned?"
Rebi Yosi asked him, "Have you no merits at all?"
He answered, "I once mistook the Purim Seudah charity money for the
ordinary charity money [both of which I was responsible for] and
distributed it to the needy [compensating for the loss from my own
Rebi Yosi said, "If that is the case, let my portion be with you and my
fate similar to yours." (Avodah Zarah 18a)
In other words, Rebi Chanina ben Teradion was a pure zealot, through-and-
through, which meant that whatever he did, he did it for G-d and only G-d.
That’s why Rebi Yosi concluded that the portion his student was destined
to receive for his act of kana’ot is worthy envying.
This meant that all the kedushah he was creating by his mesirat-Nefesh
(self-sacrifice) was protected from the Klipot, and was bringing real
tikun to the world, for which he would be duly rewarded, like the other
nine martyrs who died at the same time that he did. Indeed, though his own
life was not saved as was Pinchas’, still, the kedushah he generated was
so powerful that it actually began to subdue some of the Klipot at a time
that they were so incredibly strong:
They said it was not long before Rebi Yosi ben Kisma passed away and all
of the Roman notables went to his grave and delivered a great eulogy in
his honor. Upon returning, they found Rebi Chanina ben Teradion sitting
and occupying himself with the Torah, publicly gathering assemblies, and
keeping a scroll of the Law by his chest. Immediately they took him,
wrapped him in the Sefer Torah, placed bundles of branches around him and
set them on fire. They then brought tufts of wool, which they had soaked
in water, and placed them over his heart so that he should die slowly. His
daughter exclaimed, "Father, that I should see you in this state!"
He replied, "If I alone was being burned it would have been too hard to
bear. But now that I am burning together with the Sefer Torah, He who will
have regard for the plight of the Torah will also have regard for my
His students called out, "Rebi, what do you see?"
"Parchment is burning," he replied, "but the letters are soaring
"Open your mouth," [they begged him] "so that the fire can enter you!"
He replied, "Let Him who gave me [my soul] take it away, but no one should
The executioner then said to him, "Rabbi, if I raise the flame and take
away the tufts of wool from over your heart, will you bring me to Eternal
"Yes," he replied.
"Swear to me."
He swore to him, after which he raised the flame and removed the tufts of
wool from over his heart, and his soul quickly departed. The executioner
then jumped into the fire. A Heavenly Voice exclaimed: "Rebi Chanina ben
Teradion and the executioner are going to Eternal Life." (Ibid.)
The bottom line of all of this is, no matter what kind of mitzvah you are
performing, small or big, uneventful or dramatic, you have to be a kanoy
(a zealot). However, you have to make sure that, when being a zealot, you
do it for G-d’s sake, not for your own. Any negative trait at such a time
when you are generating kedushah is like ringing the dinner bell for the
impure side, and feeding them yourself.
If you’re going to do a mitzvah, and this is so very true, especially if
you are playing the part of the zealot, really do the mitzvah. Generate
the kedushah, and make sure it goes to the right destination. We live in
times during which the Klipot are strong. If we don’t protect the
kedushah, who will?
Have a great Shabbat,
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.