Chazal praise the daughters of Tzelofchad for seeking a portion
of the land of Eretz Yisrael (as told in this parashah). Why?
Who would not want to own a share of Eretz Yisrael?
R' Elya Meir Bloch z"l explains that the greatness of
Tzelofchad's daughters showed in the way they made their request.
They did not go to their cousins in their own tribe and demand a
share of the latter's land. Rather, they went before Moshe and
asked that he make some arrangements for them as G-d would
Also, the sisters' motive may be gauged from Hashem's response.
He testifies through the Torah, for eternity, that (Bemidbar
27:7), "The daughters of Tzelofchad speak properly."
In general, says R' Bloch, a person _cannot_ speak propely if
his motives and thoughts are not pure. R' Bloch's father,
R' Yosef Leib Bloch z"l explained that a person's speech reveals
the purity of his thoughts. This explains stories in the Talmud
where individuals were severely punished for seemingly minor
offenses. For example, in Chagigah (3b) we read that R' Eliezer
was unable to attend the yeshiva and he asked his student what
had been taught that day. Because the student answered
immediately and did not hesitate to teach his teacher, he was
horribly punished. (He was later cured miraculously.) The
student's seemingly slight mistake - after all, he was fulfilling
his teacher's wishes by answering - actually demonstrated a lack
of respect for the teacher. (Peninei Da'at p. 113; Shiurei
Da'at, II p.169)
The Temperament of a Kohen
"Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the kohen . .
Rashi writes that after Pinchas killed Zimri in defense of
G-d's honor, Bnei Yisrael teased him, "Look at the acts of the
grandson of Yitro [on his mother's side] who fattened calves for
idolatry." In Pinchas' defense, Hashem emphasized that Pinchas
was a descendant of Aharon.
R' Moshe Shick z"l (19th century) elaborates: The gemara
(Kiddushin 70b) states, "If you see a kohen who is arrogant, be
assured that his lineage is genuine, as it is written (Hoshea
4:4), 'Your nation is argumentative like a kohen'." Thus Hashem
said, "Pinchas has demonstrated by his anger at Zimri that he is
a genuine descendant of Aharon."
(Maharam Shick Al Hatorah)
R' Shmuel Eidels z"l ("Maharsha") explains the above words of
the prophet Hoshea as follows: Kohanim are argumentative because
they think they are too important to give in. The prophet is
rebuking the rest of the nation for acting like kohanim, i.e.,
being argumentative, even though they are not as important as the
(Chiddushei Aggadot: Kiddushin 70b)
Another gemara (Bava Batra 160b) makes a related statement:
"Kohanim are bad-tempered." Maharal explains that this is so
because the "fire of holiness" burns within them and causes them
(Chiddshei Aggadot, end of tractate Sanhedrin)
R' Yehonatan Eyebschutz disagrees. He writes: Kohanim are
meant to be kind-hearted people, just as their ancestor Aharon
was known as a "lover of peace and pursuer of peace." However,
so great is the strength of the forces of impurity which have
overtaken us that the very things which are potentially the most
holy in fact have become the most profane. This goes so far that
the gemara records instances of kohanim killing each other in
the Temple courtyard while arguing over who would perform certain
(Ya'arot D'vash I, No. 1)
Or: Because kohanim are by nature kind-hearted, their kindness
must be balanced by bad-temper, lest they carry kindness to
absurd extremes. Chessed perverted leads to immorality and
adultery [see Vayikra 20:17], precisely the sin of Zimri.
Because Pinchas saved the day by exhibiting anger and opposing
the perversion of chessed, he merited to become a kohen.
(Me'or Enayim: Parashat Pinchas)
The gemara (Berachot 44a) records that the population of a
certain city in Eretz Yisrael was once found to include 80 pairs
of brothers who were kohanim married to 80 pairs of sisters who
were daughters of kohanim. A similar search was conducted in
Bavel and all that was found was one pair of brothers who were
kohanim married to a pair of sisters, but those sisters were not
daughters of kohanim.
R' Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z"l observes that this gemara
highlights the unique qualities of Eretz Yisrael. Given the
arrogant and argumentative nature of kohanim, those 160 marriages
(in which both spouses were kohanim) were potential time bombs.
Nevertheless, they apparently were successful, for if they had
not been, the second sister of each pair would not have married
her brother-in-law's brother. In contrast, outside of Eretz
Yisrael, even one such marriage could not exist.
(Ein Ayah p.197)
An Astonishing Midrash
Because Moshe did not kill Zimri, Moshe's burial place is
R' Shlomo Kluger z"l explains: R' Yitzchak Abarbanel z"l writes
that Moshe's burial place was concealed lest it be made into a
shrine for idolatry. R' Abarbanel also writes that the Moabite
idol, Pe'or, was originally a shrine to a person by that name.
R' Kluger elaborates: Why should Moshe be punished for not
killing Zimri? After all, Chazal say that Moshe simply forgot
the halachah that one who commits the sin Zimri committed
(Bemidbar 25:6) is killed instantly without trial!
The answer is that Zimri had committed another sin for which
Moshe must have know that the punishment was death. Chazal say
that the Moabite women conditioned their relationships with Bnei
Yisrael upon the latter's serving the idol, Pe'or. Thus, Zimri,
too, presumably worshipped that idol.
Moshe should have killed Zimri for worshipping an idol, but he
failed to do so. Some people might have concluded from this that
Moshe condoned making a deity out of a departed leader.
Accordingly, Moshe's burial place had to be concealed.
(Imrei Shefer: Parashat Balak)
R' Avraham Klausner z"l
Little is known about R' Avraham Klausner, but he was an
important link in the transmission of Ashkenazic (especially
Austrian) minhagim/customs. In his Sefer Minhagim (of which he
actually wrote only part), he reports on many customs of Rashi,
Maharam Me'Rotenburg, R' Mordechai ben Hillel, Rabbenu Asher
("Rosh") and others. Sometimes he quotes conflicting customs,
and his student, R' Isaac of Tirnau, observed that R' Avraham's
purpose was only to report, not to decide between those
conflicting customs. (The part of Sefer Minhagim which R'
Avraham did not write preceded him, but its authorship is
unknown. Some attribute it to R' Chaim Paltiel, while others
suggest that it is the collective work of many generations of
French and German sages.)
It is known that R' Avraham lived in Vienna, Austria and shared
the rabbinate of that city with R' Meir ben Baruch Halevi (1320-
1390). It is speculated based on Vienna property records that R'
Avraham died between 1408 and 1410 and that his wife's name was
R' Avraham also led a yeshiva. Among his students, in addition
to R' Isaac of Tirnau, was R' Yaakov Moellin ("Maharil"). Both
of these scholars also authored compendia of minhagim, and much
of Ashkenazic practice today follows Maharil's customs.
(Sources: The Artscroll Rishonim p.148; Introduction to Sefer
Minhagim Le'Rabbenu Avraham Klausner [Yerushalayim 1978];
Introduction to Sefer Minhagim Le'Rabbenu Isaac Tirnau