זריזות

According to Rabbeinu Bechaye, an important characteristic that is learned from Pinchas, is זריזות, or alacrity.

Pinchas taught us how to observe the Mitzvot with enthusiasm and excitement. He was highly motivated in his serving Hashem, and this trait is to be emulated.

In מסילת ישרים written by the Ramchal, he also talks about זריזות as a form of how to do the Mitzvot. Before reaching the level of זריזות, he must first practice זהירות, or caution. The זהירות is meant for the individual to take care not to violate a negative commandment. And זריזות reflected the enthusiasm we are to show in observing the positive commandments.

We are not meant to allow ourselves to reach a level of complacency. We are to remind ourselves constantly of Hashem’s abundant gifts. When we do this, it allows us to show gratitude by observing Hashem’s Torah with the זריזות taught by Pinchas.

17th of Tammuz

Today we begin the “Three Weeks” of mourning for the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. We start this period with the Fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz.

From today, it is forbidden to listen to music. No shaving or haircuts. No weddings or celebrations. It is forbidden to say the blessing of שהחיינו. Therefore, shopping for new clothes is also forbidden.

Five events occurred on שבעה עשר בתמוז. Moshe broke the tablets on this day. The siege of Jerusalem began as well. The קרבן תמיד, daily sacrifice, ceased in the Temple. Turnusrupus burned a Torah scroll. And an idol was placed in the Heichal.

During the second Temple period, this and the other fast days became days of celebration. This was only a temporary situation. May these fast days become permanent days of celebration.

Eliminating Evil

Shavua Tov. There is an extreme contrast between Leftist views and the Torah regarding evil. The Leftists believe that everyone is inherently good, and if someone commits a heinous crime, it is only because he is frustrated. Had he received more love and more hugs, he never would have committed the crime.

The Torah, on the other hand, believes that Hashem Himself created evil in order to reward the righteous for making the right choice. Life is a test and if one passes this test and chooses good, he will receive eternal reward.

Rabbeinu Bechaye emphasizes this point in regard to Pinchas and the praise he ultimately received for his heroic act. He writes that when one spills the blood of רשעים, it’s as if he offered a קרבן to Hashem.

We also say that when evil and the wicked are destroyed, it is a merciful act. The world now becomes a better place with the elimination of evil.

The Torah teaches the true values one must possess. When the world realizes it, the world will be a far better place.

Pinchas

Pinchas was given great rewards for his act of zealotry. Officially, he was not yet a Kohein as he was not anointed with the שמן המשחה, anointing oil, with Aharon’s sons.

Hashem blessed Pinchas with ברית כהונת עולם, a covenant of eternal priesthood. The Ibn Ezra says that all future High Priests, כהנים גדולים, were descended from Pinchas.

Rabbeinu Bechaye adds that when one is שופך דמים של רשע, spills the blood of the evil, it’s as if he has offered a קרבן, sacrifice.

At first, the people were uncertain how to react to what Pinchas had done. It was only when Hashem clarified matters, did it become clear the greatness of the heroic act of Pinchas. Shabbat Shalom

Zealotry

The incident with Pinchas needs explanation. Many of the men from the tribe of Shimon were engaged in the sin of idol worship and immorality. A plague began that ended with the loss of 24,000.

Pinchas acted to end the plague with an act of zealotry. For some reason, Moshe had forgotten the Halacha as to how to act. Zimri, the head of the tribe of Shimon, sinned in public with Kozbi, a Midyanite princess. The Halacha is, קנאים פוגעים בו, that a zealot is allowed to strike them. Pinchas knew this and took his spear and killed both of them at the same time. This act succeeded in stopping the plague.

The idea of קנאות or zealotry, is a difficult one. For one to take the law into his own hands, as Pinchas did, requires great love for Hashem, and must be entirely לשם שמים, for the sake of Heaven. If the act is not done with complete sincerity, it is not קנאות, but a sin.

One other person in Tanach has קנאות connected with his name. This was Eliyahu Hanavi. He expressed his great love for Hashem and his willingness to act with zealotry on behalf of Hashem’s honor. Could this be why many opinions state that Pinchas was Eliyahu?

Seeking Money

The תורה תמימה makes a comparison between Rav Yossi Ben Kisma in פרקי אבות and the behavior of Bilaam.

In Rav Yossi Ben Kisma’s case, he says that if he was given all of the gold and silver in the world, he would not live in a place that didn’t have Torah.

Bilaam, on the other hand, tells Balak that even if he were given a house full of gold and silver, he would not go against Hashem.

The difference between the two cases is that Rav Yossi Ben Kisma was actually offered a large sum of money to take a position in another place. Bilaam was not offered anything. He was insincere and was actually hinting that if he received monetary reward, he would go against Hashem and curse the Jewish people.

We clearly see the huge difference between the truthfulness of a Tzaddik and the deviousness of the Rasha.

All in Hashem’s Hands

The Gemara in מסכת מכות teaches the idea that בדרך שאדם רוצה לילך בה מוליכין אותו, that a person will be led on the path that he wishes to take.

This is learned from Bilaam. Hashem told him not to go with Balak to curse the Jewish people, but he went anyways.

The תורה תמימה says that Hashem allowed Bilaam to go because of the principle, הכל בידי שמים חוץ מיראת שמים, that everything is from Heaven, except for fear of Heaven. Man has complete free will as to choose whether or not he will fear G-d.

What this means is that Hashem saw how badly Bilaam wanted to go, so He allowed it. Part of the way that Hashem runs the world, is that He allows a person to take the path that the person wants to take.

The only thing that went wrong in terms of Bilaam’s plan, was that Hashem allowed him to go, but He would not allow him to harm עם ישראל.

The bottom line is that we must never forget for a moment that it is Hashem that is running the world, and we are totally dependent upon Him.

מתוך שלא לשמה

The Gemara in סוטה teaches the idea of מתוך שלא לשמה בא לשמה, that when one performs Mitzvot for insincere reasons, it will lead to לשמה, for the sake of Heaven.

This is learned from Balak. He offered forty two sacrifices with the intention of cursing the Jewish people. Despite his negative intentions, he was rewarded with Ruth and ultimately the Mashiach descending from him.

This idea is certainly true for us as well. Even if our initial motivation is not for the right reasons, or we do things we don’t understand, or we don’t see the point in observing certain Mitzvot, it is important to just do it. Eventually, things will make sense and we will realize how important and meaningful the Mitzvot really are.

Midyanite Officers

Shavua Tov. In today’s Parsha, we learn of a delegation of officers of Midyan and Moab that came to convince Bilaam to curse the Jewish people. However, as the Parsha continues, we only hear of the officers of Moab, but we never hear of the Midyanite officers.

The Gemara in מסכת סנהדרין explains that the reason why they left, was because Bilaam told them that he was going to ask permission of Hashem to curse the Jews, before he would agree to go.

The Midyanites realized that at that moment, it was pointless to remain. Their reasoning was, “Is there any father that hates his son?” They assumed that because of Hashem’s love for His people, who were his children, that He could ever consent to do anything to harm them. That, in the Gemara’s opinion, is the reason why the Midyanite officers were never heard from again.

Balak

This week we read פרשת בלק. The מעינה של תורה asks why a Jew hater like בלק deserved to have a Parsha named after him. Aside from this, most of the narrative is surrounded by the antics of בלעם, much more than בלק.

The answer given is that we know that generally the גוים hate the Jews. We say עשו שונא את יעקב, that Eisav hates Yakov. However, most of the Jew haters tend to hide and cover up their disdain for the Jews. They act friendly on the outside but despise us on the inside. We are not always aware that we need to be on guard with them.

Balak is granted his own Parsha because he does not try to conceal his feelings about the Jewish people. Because of his honesty and openness, he is granted that a Torah portion be called by his name. Shabbat Shalom

Doing Hashem’s Will

In Pirkei Avot, רבן גמליאל, the son of רבי יהודה הנשיא, had some very sound advice. He advises that we learn to make Hashem’s will our will. For in doing so, His will will be like your will.

Rabban Gamliel is telling us the importance of ביטול, self nullification, and הכנעה, surrendering before Hashem. It is our duty to accept that the ultimate knowledge is possessed by G-d. He alone knows and guides us as to how we are to act in this world.

If we adopt this philosophy, we will understand that our views and opinions must all be based on the Torah. If we submit even to those issues that we don’t necessarily agree with, but defer to that which our Torah teaches, we will see great rewards.

Such a philosophy will bring us protection from those wishing to harm us. And it will ultimately give us satisfaction and peace of mind.

All we need to do is make our will like His will.

קנאה-שנאה, גאוה תאוה

One of the basic principles of Judaism is that we are to constantly work at self improvement. We are supposed to make daily character checks to see how we can treat people better, and work at getting closer to Hashem.

One idea that might help in this area, is to remember two pairs of words that rhyme as a quick reference guide. They are קנאה-שנאה and גאוה-תאוה.

The word קנאה means jealousy. We must not allow ourselves to be jealous of others, but we are to be happy with our lot in life. שנאה means hatred and we are to overcome such feelings and work to love every Jew.

The word גאוה symbolizes pride, conceit, and haughtiness. Everything we have is from Hashem and humility is the goal to achieve. And תאוה refers to lusts. This can come in many ways. We can lust after money, honor, food, women, a fancy car, or large house, etc. We have to learn to discipline ourselves and not give in to such lusts.

Perhaps remembering שנאה-קנאה and גאוה-תאוה, will help us succeed in our quest at self improvement.

Red Heifer

There are many rules related to the Red Heifer in order to make it qualify for its special task. It is the vehicle by which people are purified for having come in contact with the dead.

Ideally, it should be three or four years old. It must not have been used to carry a load. It cannot get pregnant. It is allowed to have a cover on it to protect it from flies. It is mixed together with cedar branches and hyssop. It is taken out of the city, where it is burned. The remaining ashes are mixed with water. One drop on the forehead, does the purification. This is done twice over a seven day period.

Rabbeinu Bechaye lists the nine פרה אדומה’s that were used for this service. Moshe Rabbeinu offered the first. The second was attributed to Ezra. The third and fourth were connected to the High Priest, Shimon Hatzzadik. The fifth and sixth to another כהן גדול known as יוחנן in the second Temple. The seventh, eighth, and ninth, were burned by three lesser known names, אליהועיני, חננאל המצרי, and ישמעאל בן פאבי.

The tenth פרה אדומה will be offered by מלך המשיח. May he come speedily. The Red Heifer is the most difficult to understand and is the most intriguing Mitzva in the entire Torah.

Pampered Generation

The כלי יקר has an interesting take as to why Moshe Rabbeinu was not allowed to lead עם ישראל into the Land. This is related to Moshe’s being told to hit the rock when they left Egypt. He was told to speak to the rock in the fortieth year of their time in the desert.

The generation that left Egypt were tough. They were used to rough treatment when they were slaves. The generation of the desert, on the other hand, were pampered and spoiled. Everything was done for them. The Manna, the water in the merit of Miriam, and the Clouds of Glory, all made life very easy.

The כלי יקר said that Moshe needed to learn to adjust to this generation. Just like he had to speak to the rock, he needed to approach matters in a more gentle manner. When he failed at the instruction to speak to the rock, he demonstrated he was not up to the task.

Similarly, educators need to adjust to the type of students they have. Sometimes, toughness is required, while at others, kindness and gentleness is what is needed.

Torah Study

Shavua Tov. In today’s Parsha, we have an explanation of how one becomes defiled by coming in contact with the dead. There is one Pasuk that Chazal took to make a separate teaching apart from the main subject at hand.

The Pasuk readsזאת התורה אדם כי ימות באהל, “This is the Torah, when a man shall die in a tent. This refers to the defilement transferring to anyone under the same roof as a corpse.

The Rabbis homiletic interpretation of this verse is as follows: This is the nature of Torah study. When a person is willing to die for it, he will find success. This doesn’t mean to literally die for the Torah. It means that one needs to work very hard and persevere in his Torah studies, in order for it to bear fruit. It’s rewards do not come with only a passive approach to it.

Anything whose rewards are great only comes with very hard work. This is especially true of Torah. Despite the fact that it sometimes takes years to truly reap its benefits, such an endeavor is worthwhile.

If we listen to the Rabbis, we will never go wrong!

Types of Mitzvot

Parshat חוקת introduces us to the concept of a חוק, referring to the Mitzvot of the Torah that we do not understand the reason.

Rabbeinu Bechaye categorizes three types of Mitzvot. The first category are called מצוות מקובלות, that refer to those that we received through the מסורת or oral tradition. These include תפילין, ציצית, סוכה, שופר, לולב, and ברית מילה. These are also referred to as עדות, or testimonies.

The next category are מושכלות, or those that we can figure out through our intellect. These include the prohibitions of stealing, murder, and cheating in business matters.

And the last category is called מצוות שאין טעמן נגלה, the Mitzvot whose reason is not revealed. Included here would be the scapegoat of Yom Kippur, בשר בחלב, Shaatnez, and the פרה אדומה, the Red Heifer.

Regardless of the Mitzva and whether we understand it or not, we submit to Hashem and try to fulfill them all.

Halachic Process

The process of Halacha is complex. Once a Torah law is transmitted to a Mishna by the Tannaim, it gets further discussed in the Gemara by the Amoraim.

The goal of this process, is to put the law into practice for the general public. It is often necessary to standardize matters, for the purpose of simplicity.

One such example comes from בבא בתרא in the situation of establishing possession of a field. The Rabbis needed to devise a system of protection for the purchaser as well as the seller. They were also concerned that a squatter might illegally take someone’s property. They instituted a three year transitional period where the purchaser was expected to hold on to his document verifying the sale, and the original owner was also given this time to protest against the squatters.

When a suggestion was made as an alternate method of חזקה, possession, it was rejected with the words, אם כן נתת דבריך לשיעורין, if so, you have caused a situation of subjectivity.

The more one delves into the Halachic system, the more one appreciates the wisdom and sensitivity of the Rabbis.

תפילת שוא

The last Mishna in מסכת ברכות speaks of the idea of a תפילת שוא, a prayer in vain. Two examples are given of such a prayer.

One is where someone learns that his wife is pregnant. He then begins praying that the baby should be a boy. The other example is where one enters his street on his way home, and he hears horrible screaming. He prays that those screams should not be from his home.

The Mishna is teaching us that we need to be in touch with reality. We cannot change what has already transpired. And it’s probably not a good idea to dwell on the past. We need to face the past in truth and accept and learn from what has happened in our lives.

Once this is done, we can move on and focus on the present and future. Praying for our success and asking for Hashem’s help in current and future endeavors, is a positive thing to do.

Our prayers will then be appropriate and not a תפילת שוא.

A Good Woman

A significant part of the Korach story was the role of the women. Korach’s wife was considered the instigator of the whole affair. She was constantly pointing out how unfair the division of power was among the family of the Leviim.

There is a Pasuk in Mishlei that says חכמת נשים בנתה בית, the wisdom of women have built homes. This refers to the wife of און בן פלת. All of the 250 men who joined Korach were first born. However, און בן פלת’s wife convinced him that he had nothing to gain by joining the rebellion. Either way, און would not become the leader. She ultimately saved her husband’s life.

We must never underestimate the power and influence of a woman. It is not a cliche to say that behind every great man, is a great woman.

Dealing With Wealth

The ארחות צדיקים says that wealth can either be a ברכה, קללה, or נסיון, a blessing, curse, or a test. This all depends on how the individual handles his money.

Korach was extremely wealthy but his wealth led to his downfall. The book of משלי has two verses that also express this. One Pasuk says, בוטח בעשרו הוא יפול, that one who relies on his wealth will fall. And the other Pasuk is עושר שמור לבעליו לרעתו, wealth is guarded for its owners to his detriment.

Haman was another who relied on his wealth and fell. The same was true with Korach. When one has great wealth, he has a sense of entitlement. He feels that everything is coming to him. The Rabbis further add that one of the main reasons why people rebel against Hashem, is because they are filled up, meaning, full of material possessions.

Life presents interesting challenges. Learning how to remain humble and continue to serve Hashem and depend on Him alone, is one of those challenges.