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Posted on June 7, 2002 (5760) By Rabbi Yissocher Frand | Series: | Level:

“RavFrand” List – Rabbi Frand on Parshas Pinchas

These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: Tape # 336, Tisha B’Av on Motzoei Shabbos. Good Shabbos!

Torah-Sanctioned Zealotry

In last week’s parsha we learned that Pinchas turned back G-d’s anger towards the Jewish people through his act of zealotry. The Halacha states that a zealot is allowed [subject to very strict conditions] to kill a “Boel Aramis” [a person who is engaged in a specific type of public sexual immorality]. As a payment to Pinchas for his act, G-d gave Pinchas His Covenant of Peace. Many commentators are bothered by the appropriateness of this reward. A zealot is usually understood to be one who engages in arguments and controversy. There is an interesting Rabbinic teaching which has an implied ‘criticism’ of Moshe Rabbeinu: “Since Moshe was passive during this incident, no one knows the location of his grave. This teaches us that a person must be as bold as a leopard, nimble as an eagle, speedy as a deer, and mighty as a lion to do the Will of his Creator.” The Medrash indicates that the anonymity of Moshe’s gravesite is a punishment for the fact that he himself did not perform this act of zealotry. The Medrash itself points out that this is an example of G-d acting meticulously with the righteous, measuring their actions with precision. The ability to properly perform an act of zealotry is not something everyone can take upon themselves. The person must be at the highest spiritual level. But the Medrash here faults Moshe Rabbeinu in the context of G-d measuring the acts of the righteous “by a hair’s breadth.” Rav Mordechai Gifter (Rosh Yeshiva, Telshe Yeshiva, Cleveland Ohio) emphasizes a very important point. The Torah describes Pinchas, or anyone who kills a person who is demonstrating this public immorality as a “Kanai” [zealot]. People tend to translate the word “Kanai” to mean an “extremist.” Rav Gifter writes that this is incorrect. As the Rambam writes [Hilchos Dayos 1:4], Judaism does not appreciate extremism. The middle path, the “Golden Mean” is the way the Torah advises people to act. “Kanaus” is not extremism. Quoting the Sifrei, Rav Gifter defines Kanaus as the act of sublimating one’s entire self to the wants of G-d, to the extent that the person is willing to give up his life, if necessary. That is why not all of us can assume the mantle of zealotry. Torah- sanctioned zealotry is reserved for those people who are willing to make _the_ ultimate sacrifice for G-d. When a personal agenda does not exist — when all that exists is G-d’s Honor — then and only then are the person’s actions in the category of Torah-sanctioned zealotry. If a person’s motives are not completely pure — if there is an admixture of other motives to the act of zealotry — then it ceases to be an approved act of Kanaus. Consequently, it is highly appropriate that the reward for this act is the Covenant of Shalom. Shalom does not necessarily mean peace. Shalom means _perfection_, as in the word “Shalem” [complete]. When a person performs an act of zealotry, such that his will and G-d’s Will become one, then he has achieved completeness [shleimus] with his Maker. The gift of Shalom = Shalem is thus highly appropriate. Our sages say that despite the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu erred — if we can even use that word — by failing to assume the mantle of zealotry, Moshe repents for this passivity in next week’s Parsha. We learn in Parshas Mattos of the command given to Moshe “Seek revenge for the children of Israel against the Midianites, then be gathered into your nation” [Bamidbar 31:2]. Our Rabbis infer from this linkage that Moshe had the ability to extend his lifetime. His death was dependent on his first taking revenge against the Midianites. Moshe, in effect, had a blank check. He could have taken 2 years or 5 years or 10 years to seek revenge against the Midianites. What was Moshe’s reaction? Moshe immediately went ahead and carried out the action, knowing full well that its completion would pave the way for his own imminent demise. Here, Moshe was performing the ultimate act of Kanaus. We have defined Kanaus as being able to sublimate one’s own desires and being prepared to give up one’s life for G-d. That is precisely what Moshe Rabbeinu demonstrates in Parshas Mattos. This is why Chazal view that incident as an atonement for his passiveness in the incident at the end of last week’s parsha. The ‘Sin’ Of the Father Passes Down to The Son ———————————————- There is a famous comment of the Da’as Zekeinim m’Baalei haTosfos that appears in Sefer Bereishis. There is a census in this week’s parsha that enumerates the various families of the Jewish nation. One pasuk [verse] contains the phrase, “Yashuv of the family of Yisvi” [Bamidbar 26:24]. Yashuv was one of the sons of Yissachar. If we look in Parshas Vayigash, where the descendants of the tribes who went down to Egypt are listed, there is no such son of Yissachar listed. However we do find listed there that Yisachar had a son named Yov [Bereishis 46:13]. The Da’as Zekeinim makes the following enigmatic comment. There is a controversy as to how the name Yissachar (which is spelled with a double letter ‘sin’) is to be pronounced. Do we pronounce both ‘sin’s (Yisaschar) or just one of them (Yisachar)? Prior to Parshas Pinchas, where Yisaschar’s son is always called by the name Yov (without an extra ‘sin’), we pronounce Yisaschar with both ‘sin’s. Starting here in Parshas Pinchas, we pronounce Yisachar as if it were written with only one ‘sin’. What happened? Our Sages tell us that Yov complained to his father that he had the same name as an idol and he did not like the name. Therefore, his father took a ‘shin’ from his own name and gave it to his son, whose name became Yashuv. From this point forward we read Yisachar’s name with a single ‘sin’. Rav Gifter quotes a simple question (from Rav Chaim Elezari). Why was this necessary? We do not need a ‘donor’ in order to transplant letters. Why couldn’t any letter or name be added without removing it from someone else? Rav Gifter says that the answer is obvious. This is a father who is trying to protect his son. Has there ever been a father who spared anything to guarantee that his son was protected? That is what parenting is all about. Nothing concerns us like the welfare of our children. “I am not going to rely on just any old ‘sin’ from the Aleph-bais. I am not sure that just any ‘sin’ will ‘do the trick’. I am giving you MY ‘sin’. My name will be different. My name will be lacking something and so will I. But that does not concern me in the least – because I am a father and my son’s welfare is all that counts! I insist on giving you the very best letter – one that comes straight from my name – to make sure that you are protected.” That is what fathers are for and that is what love is about. The gematria [numeric value] of ‘ahavah’ [love] is 13 (1+5+2+5). The gematria of ‘da- agah’ [worry] is also 13 (4+1+3+5). Ahavah = Da-agah [Love = Worry]. Every parent can appreciate this gematria. Being a parent means losing sleep, caring, worrying, it means looking at the clock, going to the window, pulling the curtain. Why aren’t they home yet? Why haven’t they called? Ahava = Da-agah. This is what parenthood is all about.


Gematria— System of ascribing numeric values to Hebrew letters, such that ‘Aleph’ = 1, ‘Beis’ = 2… ‘Yud’ = 10, ‘Kaf’ = 20… ‘Tav’ = 400.

Transcribed by David Twersky; Seattle, Washington.
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Yerushalayim.

This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah portion (#336). The corresponding halachic portion for this tape is: Tisha B’Av on Motzoei Shabbos. The other halachic portions for this parsha from the Commuter Chavrusah Series are:

  • Tape # 064 – The Yarmulka: At Home and In the Office
  • Tape # 154 – Writing a Halachically Sanctioned Will
  • Tape # 201 – Fasting on Tisha B’Av: Is It For Everyone?
  • Tape # 246 – Hilchos Brachos: Ikar Ve Tofel
  • Tape # 291 – The Do’s and Don’t of Kashering Keilim
  • Tape # 336 – Tisha B’Av on Motzoei Shabbos
  • Tape # 381 – Making A Zecher Le’churban
  • Tape # 425 – Minhagim of the Three Weeks
  • Tape # 469 – Tu B’Av
  • Tape # 513 – Leining on Fast Days and Other Ta’aneisim Issues

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