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Posted on July 27, 2022 (5782) By Rabbi Pinchas Winston | Series: | Level:

Friday Night

THE WORD FADICHA is an Arabic word that has made its way into the Hebrew lexicon. It is used to refer to a slip-up that verges on the pathetic. Then there is the word fashla, also from Arabic. It means that something was a disaster, and while fadicha may have a humorous connotation, there is usually nothing funny about a fashla.

Bringing back the Midianite women as spoils of war may have seemed like a fadicha, but Moshe’s reaction to it quickly made it into a fashla, a HUGE fashla:

Moshe said to them, “Did you allow all the females to live? They were the same ones who were involved with the children of Israel on Bilaam’s advice to betray God over the incident of Peor, resulting in a plague among the congregation of God. (Bamidbar 31:15-16)

Oh well. What were they thinking? More importantly, what was Pinchas thinking? He was the one who led them into battle, to finish off the job he started at the end of Parashas Balak. How did he not protest against such action, or at least tell Moshe Rabbeinu after returning, “I tried to stop them but they wouldn’t listen to me!”? It seems as if he was in on the plan, which is very hard to understand given everything we know about him.

It is reminiscent of another episode in Jewish history much later on. The Jewish people were already living in Eretz Yisroel and even had their first king, Shaul HaMelech. The time had come to finally eradicate Amalek.

Shaul HaMelech led a successful campaign against the Amalekis and had killed all of them except for the king, Agag. Instead of killing him too, Shaul decided to leave him alive so that they could first take booty and offer it to God in thanks. That would not be possible once every last Amaleki was dead. The mitzvah is to burn all their property as well once the entire nation of Amalek is gone.

There had been nothing arrogant about what Shaul had decided, or selfish. He had made his decision thinking it was the right one by God and His prophet, Shmuel. He had not hoped to gain anything personal by it other than the satisfaction of having given the proper thanks to God for making the Jewish army successful in battle.

And yet, this is how the prophet responded once he saw what Shaul had done:

Shmuel said, “Has God (as much) desire in burnt offerings and peace offerings, as in obeying the voice of God? To obey is better than a peace offering…to listen (is better) than the fat of rams.” (I Shmuel 15:22)

Fadicha. Fashla. Disaster. It cost Shaul the kingship.


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Shabbos Day

IT’S REALLY QUITE remarkable and scary at the same time. We can understand and appreciate that if a person sins with intention they are punishable. Just how punishable, is something only God can decide. Only He knows exactly what a person could have avoided, and what they could not have done better.

Their culpability will also depend on how much damage they caused. Causing a mamzer to be born is a terrible consequence of a sin that cannot be fixed. Causing a Chillul Hashem can impact many subsequent generations. God takes all of that into account when determining the guilt of a person.

In the end, Shmuel himself killed Agag, but it was already too late. The moment to eradicate Amalek had come and gone no matter how well intentioned Shaul HaMelech had been when keeping Agag alive. In the short time that was Shaul’s fashla, Agag was able to make sure that his seed continued. We are still battling Amalek this to this very day in one form or another.

The bottom line? Make your cheshbonos, but only up until they conflict with God’s. Obvious, right? Apparently not for Shaul HaMelech, and not for Pinchas HaKohen and the returning soldiers. We already know Shaul’s calculation, and its damage. What about the soldiers’ calculation, and its damage?

Also simple. Teshuvah. The women of Midian had been the source of the sin. Let them pay for their sin and be used instead for a mitzvah. Let them be used in one capacity or another to help the Jewish people accomplish their holy task, while rejecting them in any sexual way. Would that not be the greatest statement of teshuvah they could make, much more than simply taking revenge against them and killing them all?

Well, yes and no. Yes in principle, but no in practice. It was too risky. Too many things could go wrong, as they often have with males and females. Remember Yehudah and Tamar? Dovid and Bas Sheva? Amnon and Tamar? Those are just the most famous examples. There are countless others we don’t know about. Even holy people can stumble in such situations, so how much more so less holy people?

At the very least, it should have been a shaylah. Because of the obvious risk involved, they should not have decided what to do on their own. The army should have clarified before leaving for war, or sent word back while at war. They needed God’s input before they came back, not after. The returning army caused Moshe to become angry and temporarily lose his prophecy, and THAT was a major fashla. Elazar HaKohen had to teach the halachos of kashrus to the people instead (and I’ve explained what that meant long term in a previous Perceptions).

Seudas Shlishis

PRIOR TO THIS came the halachos of nedarim—vows. We Jews are supposed to be very careful about what we promise in the name of God. Not keeping our word means taking the name of God in vain, and that is one of the worst sins there are. Nedarim are really iffy, because of the potential to not follow through and commit such a terrible sin.

In fact, nedarim are such serious business that we begin the holiest day of the year, our main day of atonement, Yom Kippur, with Kol Nidrei. After all these centuries it is easy to overlook the idea behind it, which is basically to cancel out any nedarim we may have made and not yet kept the previous year. We even try and take care of any upcoming vows as well.

And that is after having already done Hataras Nedarim on Erev Rosh Hashanah. That’s when everyone recites before a bais din of three men that they wish to be freed of any outstanding nedarim they may have made in error. We don’t want to go into Rosh Hashanah with that on our heads.

The main reason a person made a neder was basically to compensate for their yetzer hara. We all have strengths and we all have weaknesses. We may take pride in our strengths, though they are really just gifts from God, but we get frustrated by our weaknesses which we’re here to fix up. How many times have we resolved to do the right thing, or at least the better thing, only to fall short once again at the moment of test?

One of the reasons we do is because the downside of failure is not all that serious. So you have another piece of chocolate cake after deciding not to have even one. You can always eat less later, or walk if off. You probably won’t, but at least you believe you might at the time you reach for that piece of cake. It’s one of the oldest and most successful tricks the yetzer hara uses against us.

But sometimes enough is enough, and we need to correct the situation finally. A neder can help with that. Before the neder, eating the extra cake meant gaining more weight and losing more face. With the neder, it means taking the name of God in vain, a really serious sin and therefore, great incentive to resist the yetzer hara. The neder makes the illicit eating a much more dangerous and more intimidating thing to do.

The truth is, we’re supposed to be able to do that without making a neder. The fact that something is right should be reason enough to do it. The fact that something is wrong should be reason enough not to do it. And it would be if not for the yetzer hara, and the pain of resisting temptation. It takes a lot of spiritual character to stand up to one’s yetzer hara, to call the yetzer hara on its rationalizations, and to find doing the right thing more pleasurable and fulfilling than always giving the body its heart’s desire.

Perhaps this is why this section precedes the war against Midian, and the fashla that resulted. It takes a strong person to admit their weakness. As Dovid HaMelech wrote:

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. (Tehillim 51:5)

It’s the only way to be a tzaddik, to never lose sight of your weaknesses, and to build up your strength to overcome them. At the very least, a person has to account for them, to plan for them by avoiding situations that could lead to sin…because they usually do.

This kind of attitude affects the way you look at every situation, especially the spiritually challenging ones. And maybe it was missing from the soldiers’ point-of-view when deciding how to deal with the Midianite women they were left with. This point-of-view towards spiritual weakness might have made them a little more cautious, and pushed them to get Moshe Rabbeinu’s feedback on the situation.

Ain Od Milvado, Part 10

PART OF THE confusion is how great people have dealt with difficult situations. If they can’t get Ain Od Milvado right, then how can we be expected to get it right? If they get fooled by reality, then how can we not be fooled too?

For example, when you read Tehillim, you get to hear first hand how Dovid HaMelech looked at his detractors and enemies, how he dealt with them. He shared his emotions with us, and quite frankly, they sound very similar to how we ourselves might feel in similar situations, which is not impressive. You don’t really hear Dovid say anywhere in Tehillim or Nach, “These guys really annoy me. But I know God that it is just really You making then act that way. At the end of the day I know that they don’t have any power. All of it is just big ongoing test from You to me, to see how much I believe this.”

Obviously that is what Dovid HaMelech believed. The question is, why did he paint a different picture for the ages?

Perhaps Dovid wanted us to know that even for someone as great as he was, as close to God as he was, it is easy to get fooled by the world around us. He didn’t live up in the clouds like some might try to do. He lived on earth with friends and enemies, plans and conspiracies, and they constantly hounded him.

Just being chased around by Shaul, his predecessor, was extremely challenging. On one hand, Shaul was the king of the Jewish people. On the other hand, he was Dovid’s mortal enemy, and defending his life might mean killing Shaul in the process. And to think, it was all from God! Try keeping that straight in your head and emotions!

The fact that everything worked out for Dovid in the end, and that God had such love for him indicates that Dovid got it all right. Despite the fact that there were so many places for Dovid to be deluded into ascribing power to people that wasn’t theirs, at the end of the day, he didn’t.

How do we know that? It’s also in Tehillim. For everything good and bad, Dovid turned to God for help, and rest assured that he would get it. He understood that his trials and tribulation were meant to do that, to keep his heart pointed in the direction of God. And Tehillim is the greatest testimony that they succeeded in doing that. Tehillim itself is a 150 chapter declaration of Ain Od Milvado. When we say it with conviction, we declare it as well.