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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Pinchas 5773 "And Nothing But the Truth"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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For almost two decades, Camp Dora Golding, where our family has spends its last nine summers, was graced with the presence of Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman[1]. A number of years ago, at a staff meeting, Rabbi Finkelman related the following personal vignette:

Rabbi Finkelman has relatives who are not Orthodox Jews. Still, he attempts to attend all family simchos in order to maintain the family bond and to try to draw them closer to a Torah way of life.

On one occasion, he attended the b’ris for the son of a relative who is a Conservative Jew. Rabbi Finkelman described how different the whole spirit of the b’ris was from an Orthodox b’ris. The Sandek, the baby’s grandfather, came in wearing surgical scraps including a face-mask. He was not allowed to hold the baby; rather he placed his hands underneath the table on which the baby was lying. The Mohel, who was also wearing full surgical gear, announced every single step of the way what was happening.

At one point, he announced that the mother of the baby was going to hand the baby to her husband[2]. Rabbi Finkelman felt that although many of the proceedings were unusual, since nothing was blatantly against halacha, there was no reason to say anything. However, at this point when the Mohel announced publically that they were to do something forbidden by halacha, Rabbi Finkelman felt it was his duty to protest. In an undertone so that no one but the Mohel would hear, Rabbi Finkelman whispered to him, “That is against halacha.”

The Mohel finished what he was doing and then he said loudly so that everyone could hear, “You know, it’s you long-bearded people who make everyone else not want to be religious!” Not wanting to allow such a vehement quip to go unanswered Rabbi Finkelman replied loudly, “Oh no! It’s people like you that rip halachos out of the Shulchan Aruch who don’t allow good people like these to have the opportunity to keep the Torah properly.”

As soon as the b’ris was completed, the Mohel stormed out of the home. However, the father of the baby mentioned to Rabbi Finkelman that the next time he had a boy he would allow Rabbi Finkelman to choose the Mohel and make all the arrangements for the b’ris.

When Bila’am realized the futility of his efforts to curse Klal Yisroel, he informed Balak that he knew the real secret to destroying the Jews. The only one who could destroy the Jewish people is the Jews themselves. If Balak would be able to lure the Jews to immorality, they would be vulnerable to G-d’s wrath.

The plan worked and the Jews were dealt harsh retribution for the sins they committed with the Moabites. Were it not for the efforts of Pinchas, the grandson of Aharon HaKohain, the devastation would have been even greater.

At the conclusion of Parshas Balak, the Torah relates that ‘a Jewish man’ brought ‘a Midyanite woman’ into his tent in full view of ‘the entire assembly’ in order to have a forbidden relationship with her. When Pinchas saw what was occurring, he grabbed a spear. (25:8) “He followed the Jewish man into the tent and pierced them both, the Jewish man and the woman into her stomach – and the plague was halted from among the Children of Israel.”

After reading about this tragic tragedy, Parshas Balak concludes. We wait a week before we read Parshas Pinchas, which continues where Parshas Balak left off. There, at the beginning of Parshas Pinchos the verse relates the reward that Pinchas received for brazenly standing up to defend the Glory of G-d. At that point the Torah also reveals the identity of the anonymous Jewish man and woman whom Pinchas killed: Zimri, the Prince of Shevet Shimon, and Kuzbee, a Midyanite Princess.

It seems strange that when the Torah actually mentions the event it omits the identity of the sinners. It is only when the Torah reveals the reward of Pinchas that we are informed that the sinners were high-ranking individuals. What is the point of the initial vagueness in regard to the identities of Zimri and Kuzbee?

Perhaps the Torah is demonstrating the extent of the greatness of Pinchas’s act that we would otherwise not fully appreciate. Rashi, at the beginning of Parshas Pinchas, explains that Pinchas was not hailed a hero for what he did. In fact, au contraire; he was immediately scorned. The people accused Pinchas of committing wanton murder. They protested that Pinchas who was a descendant of Yisro who, “fattened calves to be sacrificed as idols” had no right murdering a prince of Israel.

Pinchas had lived through the forty years in the desert and was well aware of the challenges Moshe encountered from the nation throughout that time. When he zealously grabbed a spear he must have understood that he was going to be censured for committing the deed. Even if Zimri was not well respected Pinchos knew his actions would invite opposition. The fact that he was a leader would only increase the level of hostility he would encounter.

Yet, Pinchas did not waver. He ignored the fact that his own honor and reputation was at stake, and stood up for G-d’s honor.

Perhaps that’s why when the Torah records what actually occurred it does so without identifying the perpetrators. In a sense, Pinchas made himself blind to their identities. To him they were an anonymous man and woman who had desecrated the Glory of G-d. It was only later, when the Torah describes the heroism of Pinchas that the Torah expounds on what really happened, to demonstrate just how courageous and zealous Pinchas was.

The Chofetz Chaim relates a parable about a wealthy landowner who was leaving town for a business venture for an extended period of time. Before embarking on his trip, the landowner appointed an overseer to supervise his land during his absence. He left the overseer with a detailed ‘to do’ list, and instructed him to read the list each morning.

When the landowner returned, he was shocked to find his properties in disarray. It seemed as if nothing had been done since his departure. The landowner called the overseer into his office and severely chastised him for being derelict with his responsibilities. The overseer defended himself, “But I read the list that you left with me every single morning, just as you instructed.” The landowner’s face turned colors, “When I left you to oversee, I didn’t realize I was leaving an imbecile in charge of my properties. Reading the list without ensuring that the instructions were carried out is completely worthless.”

The Chofetz Chaim explained that the same is true about those Jews who are meticulous to study Torah and the Shulchan Aruch but aren’t very particular to implement what they study. They are analogous to the overseer who reads the list but does nothing about it.

Pinchas did not merely study Torah to know its truth but he also sought to live a life of truth. The Torah he learned wasn’t merely polemics; it was how he lived his life.

At times we may be apologetic when explaining halacha or mitzvos to those less familiar. The legacy of Pinchos is that we should be proud of who we are, and never be ashamed to stand up for its honor.

“The Jewish man and the woman”

“Pinchos turned back my wrath from the Children of Israel”

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[1] Rabbi Finkleman shlita is the Mashgiach of Yeshiva Ohr HaChaim in Queens and a beloved mechanech, who teaches more by example, than through all of the pearls of Torah he conveys. He is also a man of unyielding integrity who is unabashed to emphatically promote and demand strict adherence to the Torah view and law in regard to all facets of life.

[2] It is forbidden for the first few weeks after a woman has given birth to hand anything directly to her husband, as per hilchos niddah

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