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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Pinchas 5772 "Balancing Pirorities"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Rabbi Yitzchok Elchonon Spektor zt’l, the great Kovno Rav, once reprimanded a man who had chastised a group of community members for transgressing certain Torah laws. The man replied that he had seen the Rav himself admonish them on numerous occasions. Rabbi Spektor explained that the difference between their rebuke is analogous to a housewife and a cat. Both of them will chase mice away. However, the housewife chases the mice out of her home and wishes that they would never have showed up in the first place. The cat on the other hand, chases the mice with glee, excited at his opportunity to torment his potential lunch.

Rabbi Spektor explained that he preferred that those people never sinned. But once they did, as the Rabbi of this community it was his responsibility to chastise them. The man, on the other hand, reveled in the fact that they sinned since it gave him the opportunity to reproach them and make himself feel ‘holier than thou’. In order to rebuke another, one must feel pained by the iniquity that was committed and convey that pain to the sinner.

After Bila’am’s abysmal failure trying to curse the Jews, he had one last hope. He counseled Balak to entice the Jewish men to debauchery stating that, “Their G-d abhors immorality”. So intent were the Moabites and their Midyanite allies about causing the downfall of Klal Yisroel that members of their aristocracy even sent their daughters to participate in the campaign.

The Gemara[1] records the events that the women would avail themselves to the Jewish men but would insist that the men serve the idol Pe’or before being with them. Many men from the tribe of Shimon succumbed and simultaneously committed two cardinal sins of idolatry and forbidden relationships. One who transgresses either of these sins is liable to be killed at the behest of the Jewish courts. The transgressors from the tribe of Shimon were no different.

The Gemara states, “The tribe of Shimon went to Zimri ben Salu[2] and they said to him, ‘Behold! They are judging matters of life and death and you are standing by quietly?! Whereupon he (Zimri) stood up and gathered twenty-four thousand Jews and he went to Kuzbe[3].” When he demanded that she submit to him, she replied that she was a princess and her father had instructed her that she only submit herself to their leader. Zimri replied that he was no less a leader than Moshe. He then grabbed her by the locks of her hair and brought her before Moshe. He brazenly announced, “Son of Amram, is this (woman) permitted or forbidden; and if you’ll tell me that she is forbidden, who permitted you to marry the daughter of Yisro?”

“Then, in public view, Zimri brought her into his tent. Moshe himself forgot the law and he was unsure how to proceed, until his nephew Pinchas stood up and said, “Rebbe, did you not teach us that one who cohabits with a Cuthean, zealots may kill him?!” Then Pinchas grabbed a sword, entered Zimri’s tent and killed both of them. In the merit of his zealousness of avenging the Honor of G-d, as it were, Pinchas was blessed with the gift of the priesthood and G-d’s eternal covenant of peace.

The Klausenberger Rebbe[4] notes that in regard to those who are ‘quick to anger’ the Gemara[5] writes, “They act in the manner of Zimri and they seek reward like Pinchas”. What does the Gemara mean? It is illogical to assume that the Gemarah is speaking about wicked people or fools who foolishly lose their temper and then demand reward for doing so. Obviously he must have some rationale or justification for doing so.

The Rebbe explained that there are people who have certain customs or stringencies that they are very particular about. On occasion, a situation may arise that will compel them to compromise on those customs. When that occurs, the person may become incensed and respond wrathfully to the person or situation preventing him from maintaining his usual practice. The person will often feel justified in his anger, rationalizing that his anger is a byproduct of his extreme devotion and love for G-d. He may neglect to realize however, that his anger is many times worse than the mitzvah he intended to fulfill.

He relates the story of Rabbi Shalom of Belz whose elderly mother joined him for the Seder on Pesach night. Because of her feeble state, she could not chew the matzah and so she dipped it in the soup that she and her son were sharing in order to soften it. The Rebbe was extremely particular not to eat or create ‘gebruktts’ on Pesach[6]. Still, the Rebbe said nothing to his mother. He used his spoon to scoop soup that did not have pieces of matzah in it and he ate it silently.

The Klausenberger Rebbe explained that many individuals in the same situation would have become angry and may have made a comment to their mother. They may have reasoned that they had a right to defend their personal modality of Service to G-d. Rabbi Shalom Belzer however understood that honoring one’s mother was a Biblical obligation while not eating gebruktts is a mere stringency. It undoubtedly required great self-restraint for the Rebbe to overlook his stringency. But the Rebbe understood what his priorities were.

This is what essentially occurred with Zimri. From the Gemara’s narrative it is clear that Zimri did not act out of mere lust. In fact, in his mind he was acting for the honor of G-d. He was fulfilling his duty as a leader to try and defend his constituents by proving their impunity. He sought to exonerate them from the death penalty by demonstrating that their acts were not yet halachically forbidden. Zimri, understood that his actions may get him killed, but he was prepared to sacrifice his life for his tribe.

The fallacy of Zimri was that allowed his wrath to consume him. Chazal warn us that once one is overcome by anger he becomes irrational. Zimri felt that he was acting out of zealousness, and therefore, he felt deserving of reward.

In other words, Zimri felt that he would receive the reward that was granted to Pinchas. But there was a fundamental difference between the zealousness of Pinchas, which was divinely inspired and was done with the permission of Moshe Rabbeinu, and that of Zimri, which was precipitated by anger.

The determining factor of true zealousness is the immediate emotion that precedes the act. If one acts out of anger, he is not a zealot but a ka’ason (one who has a temper). The true zealot however, is filled with pain and grief over the desecration of G-d’s Name. He feels that he has no recourse in order to defend the honor of G-d’s Name except to act in such a manner.

Pinchas is often perceived of as a warrior with a fiery spirit, poised for confrontation. The Klausenberger Rebbe depicts a vastly different personality. Pinchas was a grandson of the peace-loving Aharon HaKohain. He too was unquestionably a seeker and lover of peace. It was only when he witnessed the ignominy and impudence that occurred that he felt he was obliged to act as he did, the personal peril of his mission not withstanding.

An individual who allows his anger to overtake him because of his inability to fulfill a spiritual mission or calling may feel that he has acted nobly. However, “He has acted like Zimri yet he seeks reward like Pinchas”. True zealousness is rooted in sensitivity and love, not anger and impetuousness.

A housewife or a cat

“I give him My covenant of peace”

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[1] Sanhedrin 82a

[2] their prince and leader

[3] the Midyanite Princes

[4] Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam zt’l; Shefa Chaim, Parshas Vayigash

[5] Sotah 22b

[6] [Gebruktts is matzah that came into contact with any liquid on Pesach. The stringency and prevalent custom not to eat or create gebruktts was accepted as a safeguard, out of fear that if part of a matzah that was not completely baked comes into contact with liquid, it can become chometz within a short time thus causing a serious prohibition to have been inadvertently transgressed.]

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