In the middle of the census which is described in this week's
parashah, we read that Korach's sons were not killed along with
him during his rebellion. The midrash comments: "Thus people
say, the world stands on three pillars, and some say, on the
three sons of Korach." What does this mean?
R' Eliezer David Gruenwald z"l (rabbi of Visheve and Satmar;
died 1928) explains: We learn in Pirkei Avot (Ch. 4), "Jealousy,
desire and honor drive a person from the world." These faults
are the root causes of the three cardinal sins: jealousy leads to
murder, desire leads to adultery, and honor leads to idolatry.
(Both the idolator and a person who seeks honor for himself
lessen G-d's honor.)
We also are taught that the world stands on three pillars:
Torah, Divine service and acts of kindness. Torah is the
antidote for desire, for licentiousness cannot creep into a mind
that is active. Acts of kindness are the antidote for jealousy.
Finally, Divine service is the antidote for honor, as one who is
a faithful servant of Hashem does not seek honor for himself.
Korach's sons were named Asir, Elkanah and Aviasaf. "Asir"
means "tied" and alludes to the reins that one places on his
desires. "Elkanah" means "G-d acquired," and one who remembers
that Hashem owns everything will not feel jealousy. Finally,
"Aviasaf" means "My father gathered," and alludes to death, the
thought of which squelches the need for honor. This is how
Korach's three sons are the pillars on which the world stands.
"Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Kohen,
turned back My wrath from upon Bnei Yisrael . . ." (25:11)
R' Yosef Yaavetz z"l (Spain and Italy; 1435-1507) writes: This
verse teaches that man is rewarded separately for each detail of
his actions. Specifically, Hashem judges the worth of a man's
deeds by who the man is, by what he has done, and by who
benefitted from what was done, and then He pays accordingly.
Who was Pinchas? He was not a hot-blooded and experienced
warrior, whom one might expect to take a spear and avenge
Hashem's honor. Rather, he was "the son of Elazar, the son of
Aharon the Kohen."
What did Pinchas do? "[He] turned back My wrath."
Who benefitted from Pinchas' deed? "Bnei Yisrael," Hashem's
beloved. (Kol Sifrei R' Yosef Yaavetz Vol. II)
"Behold! I give him My covenant of peace." (25:12)
R' Menachem Mendel Stern z"l (rabbi of Sighet; died 1834)
explains: The promise that Hashem made in this verse is the same
as that of the verse (Zechariah 3:7), "I will let you walk among
those who stand here [i.e., the angels]." Hashem promised: You
will never fall from the level that you have achieved. A similar
promise was made to Avraham in the verse (Bereishit 15:1), "I am
a shield for you."
Pinchas was promised that the yetzer hara would make peace with
him. Why? Because man's role is to withstand the tests that
confront him and thereby to subdue the yetzer hara. The harder
the test, the more the yetzer hara is subdued as a result. The
test that Pinchas faced at the end of last week's parashah was
sufficiently difficult that he subdued the yetzer hara entirely.
"Behold! I give him My covenant of peace . . . because he
took vengeance for his G-d, and he atoned for Bnei Yisrael."
R' Chananiah Yom Tov Lipa Teitelbaum z"l (rabbi of Sighet; died
1904) asks: Here, Pinchas was rewarded for acting with a
vengeance to defend G-d's honor. Yet, Chazal teach that Pinchas
is the same person as Eliyahu Hanavi, and we read in the haftarah
(Melachim I 19:17) that Hashem dismissed Eliyahu as His prophet
because Eliyahu acted in a similar manner! [Ed. note: This
haftarah is read only when Parashat Pinchas falls before the 17th
of Tammuz] As Eliyahu himself says there (verse 14): "I have
acted with great zeal for Hashem." What changed?
He answers: Like Eliyahu, Pinchas acted with vengeance. Unlike
Eliyahu, Pinchas also "atoned for Bnei Yisrael." Only when these
two traits are combined can vengeance be acceptable.
(Kedushat Yom Tov)
"May Hashem, G-d of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man
over the assembly, who will go out before them and come in
before them . . . and let the assembly of Hashem not be like
sheep that have no shepherd." (27:16-17)
R' Menachem Mendel Hager z"l (the"Visheve Rebbe"; died 1942)
explains: Hashem frequently credits the Jewish people in the
present with mitzvot and good deeds that they will perform in the
future. For example, the Exodus took place because Bnei Yisrael
would later receive the Torah at Har Sinai (see Shmot 3:12).
It was this trait of Hashem that Moshe referred to when he
recited the above prayer: Appoint a leader "who will go out
before them," i.e., who will be capable of "reminding" You of the
good deeds that Your children will do in the future. This is why
Moshe referred to the Jews as a flock in need of a shepherd; a
shepherd watches his sheep because of the benefit that he will
derive in future. Right now, he has no use for the sheep. Note
also that the initials of the phrase "Elokei ha'ruchot le'chol
bassar"/"G-d of the spirits of all flesh" spell "le'haba"/"in the
Why is Hashem able to reward us in advance for our future good
deeds? Because we have a "chezkat kashrut"/"presumption of
respectability" because of the merit of the Patriarchs. Thus,
the initials of the phrase (from the story of the akeidah,
Bereishit 22:11), "ha'ma'achelet le'shchot et b'no"/"the knife to
sacrifice his son," also spell "le'haba"/"in the future." The
same is true of the phrase (Bemidbar 23:21), "Lo hibit avven
be'Yaakov"/"He has seen no iniquity in Yaakov."
Another place where these initials are found is in the words of
Esav's complaint to his father (Bereishit 27:37), "Halo atzalta
li berachah"/"Did you not save a blessing for me?" This verse
suggests that Esav tried (unsuccessfully) to misappropriate the
merit of the Patriarchs.
(She'eirit Menachem I)
Why exactly does the merit of the Patriarchs protect us? How
can Hashem, the Source of Justice, take into consideration the
fact that the defendant who is on trial before Him is the
descendant of His "friend"?
R' Eliyahu Dessler z"l (died 1953) explains: Every person has
the free choice to do good or evil. However, every descendant of
Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov is inherently good at his core
because of the spiritual genetic code which he inherited from
those Patriarchs. When Hashem takes into account the merits of
the Patriarchs it is merely a recognition of this fact. It is as
if a judge would say, "For the crime that you committed, you
should be sentenced to a prison term. However, because you come
from a good home where you can be rehabilitated, I will release
you to your parents' custody."
(Michtav M'Eliyahu Vol I, pp.8-14)
Letters from Our Sages
This week's letter was written by R' Yehonasan Steif z"l
(pre-war rabbi of Budapest; died in New York in 1958) to R'
Yosef Schwartz of Grosswardein, Hungary (now Oradea,
Romania). The letter is dated "Monday, [of the week of Ki]
Tisah, 5703 ," and is printed in She'eilot U'teshuvot
Mahari Steif, No. 90.
I received your letter. In your humility you ask me to tell
you regarding the mesorah [the body of knowledge dealing with the
correct spelling, punctuation and pronunciation of Tanach], who
authored it, who transmitted it and who was the first one to
expound on it homiletically in the style of the Ba'al Haturim [a
14th century work].
I have written on this extensively . . . and here I will repeat
the main points which are well known. Everyone says that the
wise men of Teveryah wrote the mesorah. There were two sages
shortly after the time of R' Saadiah Gaon z"l [9th century] whose
names were R' Aharon (some say R' Moshe) ben Asher z"l and R'
Yaakov ben Naftali z"l. In some cases we rely on the readings of
Ben Asher, and Rambam, too, relied on him, and this is the custom
of Western Jewry. In the East, however, they rely on Ben
Naftali. The mesorah itself is a wondrous wisdom . . .
In the introduction [to his work on Chumash], I mentioned the
words of the Tikkunei Zohar . . . : "The small mesorah and the
great mesorah were delivered into the hands of the faithful
shepherd." This proves that the essence of the mesorah was given
to Moshe at Sinai. (See also Nedarim 36b). However, the sages
of later generations expanded upon this subject based upon the
rules that were handed down to them . . .
In the work Meivin Chidot, the author takes issue with the
masters of aggadah and dialectics who expound homiletically on
the mesorah. He writes about them that they have betrayed her
[the mesorah] and sold her . . .
Who was the first one to expound in this manner, I do not know
at present, but it is clear to me that it is legitimate to do so.
[R' Steif then cites a proof from the Talmud Yerushalmi, Megillah