Subscribe to a Weekly Series

Posted on June 7, 2002 (5759) By Shlomo Katz | Series: | Level:

Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Contributing Editor: Daniel Dadusc


Volume XIII, No. 37
19 Tammuz 5759
July 3, 1999

Today’s Learning:
Terumot 1:2-3
Orach Chaim 128:34-36
Daf Yomi: Beitza 38
Yerushalmi Chagigah 12

In the middle of the census which is described in this week’s parashah, we read that Korach’s sons were not killed along with him during his rebellion. The midrash comments: “Thus people say, the world stands on three pillars, and some say, on the three sons of Korach.” What does this mean?

R’ Eliezer David Gruenwald z”l (rabbi of Visheve and Satmar; died 1928) explains: We learn in Pirkei Avot (Ch. 4), “Jealousy, desire and honor drive a person from the world.” These faults are the root causes of the three cardinal sins: jealousy leads to murder, desire leads to adultery, and honor leads to idolatry. (Both the idolator and a person who seeks honor for himself lessen G-d’s honor.)

We also are taught that the world stands on three pillars: Torah, Divine service and acts of kindness. Torah is the antidote for desire, for licentiousness cannot creep into a mind that is active. Acts of kindness are the antidote for jealousy. Finally, Divine service is the antidote for honor, as one who is a faithful servant of Hashem does not seek honor for himself.

Korach’s sons were named Asir, Elkanah and Aviasaf. “Asir” means “tied” and alludes to the reins that one places on his desires. “Elkanah” means “G-d acquired,” and one who remembers that Hashem owns everything will not feel jealousy. Finally, “Aviasaf” means “My father gathered,” and alludes to death, the thought of which squelches the need for honor. This is how Korach’s three sons are the pillars on which the world stands. (Keren Le’David)


“Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Kohen, turned back My wrath from upon Bnei Yisrael . . .” (25:11)

R’ Yosef Yaavetz z”l (Spain and Italy; 1435-1507) writes: This verse teaches that man is rewarded separately for each detail of his actions. Specifically, Hashem judges the worth of a man’s deeds by who the man is, by what he has done, and by who benefitted from what was done, and then He pays accordingly.

Who was Pinchas? He was not a hot-blooded and experienced warrior, whom one might expect to take a spear and avenge Hashem’s honor. Rather, he was “the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Kohen.”

What did Pinchas do? “[He] turned back My wrath.”

Who benefitted from Pinchas’ deed? “Bnei Yisrael,” Hashem’s beloved. (Kol Sifrei R’ Yosef Yaavetz Vol. II)

“Behold! I give him My covenant of peace.” (25:12)

R’ Menachem Mendel Stern z”l (rabbi of Sighet; died 1834) explains: The promise that Hashem made in this verse is the same as that of the verse (Zechariah 3:7), “I will let you walk among those who stand here [i.e., the angels].” Hashem promised: You will never fall from the level that you have achieved. A similar promise was made to Avraham in the verse (Bereishit 15:1), “I am a shield for you.”

Pinchas was promised that the yetzer hara would make peace with him. Why? Because man’s role is to withstand the tests that confront him and thereby to subdue the yetzer hara. The harder the test, the more the yetzer hara is subdued as a result. The test that Pinchas faced at the end of last week’s parashah was sufficiently difficult that he subdued the yetzer hara entirely. (Derech Emunah)

“Behold! I give him My covenant of peace . . . because he took vengeance for his G-d, and he atoned for Bnei Yisrael.” (25:12)

R’ Chananiah Yom Tov Lipa Teitelbaum z”l (rabbi of Sighet; died 1904) asks: Here, Pinchas was rewarded for acting with a vengeance to defend G-d’s honor. Yet, Chazal teach that Pinchas is the same person as Eliyahu Hanavi, and we read in the haftarah (Melachim I 19:17) that Hashem dismissed Eliyahu as His prophet because Eliyahu acted in a similar manner! [Ed. note: This haftarah is read only when Parashat Pinchas falls before the 17th of Tammuz] As Eliyahu himself says there (verse 14): “I have acted with great zeal for Hashem.” What changed?

He answers: Like Eliyahu, Pinchas acted with vengeance. Unlike Eliyahu, Pinchas also “atoned for Bnei Yisrael.” Only when these two traits are combined can vengeance be acceptable. (Kedushat Yom Tov)


“May Hashem, G-d of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the assembly, who will go out before them and come in before them . . . and let the assembly of Hashem not be like sheep that have no shepherd.” (27:16-17)

R’ Menachem Mendel Hager z”l (the”Visheve Rebbe”; died 1942) explains: Hashem frequently credits the Jewish people in the present with mitzvot and good deeds that they will perform in the future. For example, the Exodus took place because Bnei Yisrael would later receive the Torah at Har Sinai (see Shmot 3:12).

It was this trait of Hashem that Moshe referred to when he recited the above prayer: Appoint a leader “who will go out before them,” i.e., who will be capable of “reminding” You of the good deeds that Your children will do in the future. This is why Moshe referred to the Jews as a flock in need of a shepherd; a shepherd watches his sheep because of the benefit that he will derive in future. Right now, he has no use for the sheep. Note also that the initials of the phrase “Elokei ha’ruchot le’chol bassar”/”G-d of the spirits of all flesh” spell “le’haba”/”in the future.”

Why is Hashem able to reward us in advance for our future good deeds? Because we have a “chezkat kashrut”/”presumption of respectability” because of the merit of the Patriarchs. Thus, the initials of the phrase (from the story of the akeidah, Bereishit 22:11), “ha’ma’achelet le’shchot et b’no”/”the knife to sacrifice his son,” also spell “le’haba”/”in the future.” The same is true of the phrase (Bemidbar 23:21), “Lo hibit avven be’Yaakov”/”He has seen no iniquity in Yaakov.”

Another place where these initials are found is in the words of Esav’s complaint to his father (Bereishit 27:37), “Halo atzalta li berachah”/”Did you not save a blessing for me?” This verse suggests that Esav tried (unsuccessfully) to misappropriate the merit of the Patriarchs. (She’eirit Menachem I)

Why exactly does the merit of the Patriarchs protect us? How can Hashem, the Source of Justice, take into consideration the fact that the defendant who is on trial before Him is the descendant of His “friend”?

R’ Eliyahu Dessler z”l (died 1953) explains: Every person has the free choice to do good or evil. However, every descendant of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov is inherently good at his core because of the spiritual genetic code which he inherited from those Patriarchs. When Hashem takes into account the merits of the Patriarchs it is merely a recognition of this fact. It is as if a judge would say, “For the crime that you committed, you should be sentenced to a prison term. However, because you come from a good home where you can be rehabilitated, I will release you to your parents’ custody.” (Michtav M’Eliyahu Vol I, pp.8-14)


Letters from Our Sages

This week’s letter was written by R’ Yehonasan Steif z”l (pre-war rabbi of Budapest; died in New York in 1958) to R’ Yosef Schwartz of Grosswardein, Hungary (now Oradea, Romania). The letter is dated “Monday, [of the week of Ki] Tisah, 5703 [1943],” and is printed in She’eilot U’teshuvot Mahari Steif, No. 90.

I received your letter. In your humility you ask me to tell you regarding the mesorah [the body of knowledge dealing with the correct spelling, punctuation and pronunciation of Tanach], who authored it, who transmitted it and who was the first one to expound on it homiletically in the style of the Ba’al Haturim [a 14th century work].

I have written on this extensively . . . and here I will repeat the main points which are well known. Everyone says that the wise men of Teveryah wrote the mesorah. There were two sages shortly after the time of R’ Saadiah Gaon z”l [9th century] whose names were R’ Aharon (some say R’ Moshe) ben Asher z”l and R’ Yaakov ben Naftali z”l. In some cases we rely on the readings of Ben Asher, and Rambam, too, relied on him, and this is the custom of Western Jewry. In the East, however, they rely on Ben Naftali. The mesorah itself is a wondrous wisdom . . .

In the introduction [to his work on Chumash], I mentioned the words of the Tikkunei Zohar . . . : “The small mesorah and the great mesorah were delivered into the hands of the faithful shepherd.” This proves that the essence of the mesorah was given to Moshe at Sinai. (See also Nedarim 36b). However, the sages of later generations expanded upon this subject based upon the rules that were handed down to them . . .

In the work Meivin Chidot, the author takes issue with the masters of aggadah and dialectics who expound homiletically on the mesorah. He writes about them that they have betrayed her [the mesorah] and sold her . . .

Who was the first one to expound in this manner, I do not know at present, but it is clear to me that it is legitimate to do so. [R’ Steif then cites a proof from the Talmud Yerushalmi, Megillah 1:1.]

Copyright © 1998 by Shlomo Katz and Project Genesis, Inc.

The editors hope these brief ‘snippets’ will engender further study and discussion of Torah topics (“lehagdil Torah u’leha’adirah”), and your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Project Genesis start with 5758 (1997) and may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page. Text archives from 1990 through the present may be retrieved from Donations to HaMaayan are tax-deductible.