In this week's parashah, Moshe appoints his successor, Yehoshua, to lead
Bnei Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael. The Midrash (Bemidbar Rabbah 19:13) says
that the reason Moshe did not enter Eretz Yisrael was so that he might
lead the generation of the desert into the Land at the time of the
resurrection. R' Yehuda Rosannes z"l (Turkey; 18th century) asks: If that
generation deserves to return, why does it need Moshe? If it does not
deserve to return how will Moshe help it?
He explains: Hashem has taken an oath (Tehilim 95:10-11): "For forty
years I was angry with the generation; then I said, `They are an errant-
hearted people, they do not know My ways.' Therefore I have sworn in My
wrath, they shall not enter My [land of] rest." Because of Hashem's oath,
the generation of the desert may not enter Eretz Yisrael.
However, the halachah provides that if a person makes a vow excluding
another from his house, then if the house is razed and rebuilt, the vow is
nullified. Our Sages teach that had Moshe entered Eretz Yisrael, he would
have built the Temple, and, had he done so, it would never have been
destroyed. However, it is precisely because the Temple was destroyed that
Hashem's oath can be nullified. This is what is meant by the statement
that, because Moshe died in the desert, his generation could enter the
Land. (Parashat Derachim)
"Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aharon Hakohen, turned back My
wrath from upon Bnei Yisrael, when he zealously avenged Me among them, so
I did not consume Bnei Yisrael in My vengeance. Therefore, say, `Behold!
I give him My covenant of peace'." (25:10-11)
The Gemara teaches that these verses are Hashem's response to the cynical
comments of Bnei Yisrael: "Have you seen this grandson of Puti -- whose
mother's father used to fatten calves for idolatrous sacrifices -- and he
has dared to slay a prince of one of Israel's tribes?" That comment
referred to the fact that Pinchas's father, Elazar, had married a daughter
of Putiel, who is identified with the Midianite Yitro. Accordingly, the
Torah comes along and connects Pinchas' genealogy with Aharon.
R' Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z"l (1865-1935) explains: One who wants
to be a kana'i, one who zealously avenges Hashem's honor, must have
completely pure motivations. Therefore Bnei Yisrael asked: How can
someone whose mother was a Midianite and whose grandfather was a priest to
idolatry attain such pure motivation? Surely Pinchas' killing of Zimri
and the Midianite woman was the product of the bad character that he
inherited from that side of his family.
No! says the Torah. Pinchas' nature is entirely that of his paternal
grandfather Aharon, well-known as a "lover of peace and pursuer of peace."
Pinchas' seemingly "unpeaceful" act was contrary to his nature and was done
purely for Hashem's sake.
R' Kook adds: Why did Hashem value Pinchas' act so highly? It was because
Pinchas "turned back [Hashem's] wrath from upon Bnei Yisrael." That was no
ordinary wrath! Usually, some time passes between a sin and its
punishment, but not here. As told at the end of last week's parashah,
24,000 of Bnei Yisrael died in a plague immediately upon engaging in the
immoral acts described there. Only when Pinchas killed Zimri did the
What was Pinchas' reward? Our Sages teach that Pinchas and Eliyahu are
one and the same. His reward was (and is) eternal life. Why? Because
just as there usually is time between a sin and its punishment, there also
is a separation between a good deed and its reward. This is a separation
not only in time -- the mitzvah is in this world but the reward is in the
next -- but also in the fact that most reward is reserved for the soul,
although the mitzvah was done by the body. However, because Pinchas
stopped the plague that came together with the sin, his body and his soul
were rewarded together and his Olam Ha'zeh and his Olam Ha'ba were merged
In addition, R' Kook explains, Pinchas' reward of eternal life actually
proves that his kana'ut / zealousness was purely for the sake of Heaven.
Ordinarily, kana'ut -- closely related to both jealousy and anger -- is a
destructive force that can kill the one who practices it. Pinchas' eternal
life proves that his kana'ut was different.
(Olat Reiyah p. 394)
R' Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg z"l (Rosh Yeshiva in Berlin and Switzerland
and noted halachic authority; died 1966) also observes that a kana'i must
have pure motivations. That is why Moshe did not kill Zimri himself.
Chazal say that when Moshe rebuked Zimri for consorting with a Midianite,
Zimri retorted, "And who gave you permission to marry a Midianite woman?"
Of course, Moshe's case was different, for Moshe married Tzipporah before
the Torah was given. Nevertheless, in his humility, Moshe feared that if
he killed Zimri, he might derive even a tiny measure of satisfaction from
taking revenge on the person who insulted him.
Moreover, if Moshe had killed Zimri, cynics might have perceived it as an
attempt to erase his own shame at having married a Midianite. Or, perhaps
such a motivation might even sneak into Moshe's heart, however subtly.
Moshe was afraid of this, so he did not act. And, that is why Bnei
Yisrael rebuked Pinchas by mentioning that he too had Midianite blood.
They said, "Are you holier than Moshe? He did not trust his own
motivations, but you do?"
To this the Torah answers, "Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aharon
Hakohen" -- Man does not always know what motivates him, but Hashem does.
Pinchas did not do this as the grandson of Yitro, but rather as the
grandson of Aharon. (Lefrakim p. 608)
A related halachah:
R' Yisroel Meir Kagan (the "Chafetz Chaim"; died 1933) writes that it is
permissible in certain cases to speak words that would otherwise be lashon
hara, e.g., to save an innocent person from harm or to distance people from
interacting with a sinner. However, before one may speak in such
circumstances, he must satisfy certain conditions. One of these is that he
must be motivated only by the benefit that either the listener or the
subject will derive (e.g., to motivate the subject to repent when he sees
that people avoid him). However, if the speaker will derive any
satisfaction from speaking about the subject, he may not do so.
Certainly, the Chafetz Chaim writes, one may not relate how he personally
suffered at the hands of the subject, for example, if the subject harmed
him, stole from him, cheated him, or insulted him. Also, one may not even
relate how the subject once failed to do good to him, for example, by
refusing to extend him a loan. (The Chafetz Chaim observes that the
latter rule is violated when one visits a city and says, "You are much
more friendly than the people in town so-and-so.") In any of the cases
described in this paragraph, the typical person cannot possibly keep his
motivation pure. (Sefer Chafetz Chaim Ch. 10)
A related thought:
R' Avraham Mordechai Alter z"l (the Gerrer Rebbe; died 1948) asks: How is
it that in the middle of Shemoneh Esrei, in the midst of asking for all of
our own and the nation's physical and spiritual needs, we suddenly seem to
stoop so low as to pray that G-d uproot the sinners and take revenge on
them? He answers: The Gemara teaches that that part of Shemoneh Esrei was
authored by the Sage Shmuel Hakattan, the very same sage who taught, "When
your enemy falls, do not rejoice." Only such a person could write such a
prayer. (Otzrot Tzaddikei U'geonei Ha'dorot)
R' Eliyahu de Vidas z"l
R' Eliyahu was born in Tzefat in approximately 1550. His father passed
away at a young age, and R' Eliyahu grew up in extreme poverty. He
studied under the two leading kabbalists of his day, R' Moshe Kordevero
("RaMaK") and R' Yitzchak Luria (the "Arizal"). When RaMaK passed away,
R' Eliyahu was entrusted with the deceased sage's writings. Later, R'
Eliyahu settled in Chevron and became its Chief Rabbi.
R' Eliyahu is best known for his classic ethical work Raishit Chochmah.
Perhaps more so than any other popular mussar work, Raishit Chochmah delves
into many esoteric and hidden matters, for example, a description of the
punishment one may suffer in Gehinnom. A son-in-law of R' Yisroel Meir
Kagan (the "Chafetz Chaim"; died 1933) relates that his father-in-law
used to deliver a mussar lecture to his students on Shabbat afternoons.
Once he commented that people think that the description of Gehinnom in
Raishit Chochmah is exaggerated, but that is not the case. Every word in
R' Eliyahu's description should be taken as it is written, the Chafetz
One of the Chafetz Chaim's students was gripped by terror when he heard
this, and he fell ill. For a time, he seemed to be at death's door, but he
eventually recovered. He went to the Chafetz Chaim and he said, "Had I
died, you would have been to blame."
The Chafetz Chaim rose to his full height and replied, "I say again -
everything is exactly as the Raishit Chochmah describes. However, I do
regret not adding one thing. If a person knew the extent to which
suffering in this world can lessen the need for punishment in the World-to-
Come, a person would gladly accept the suffering of Iyov (Job) all the
days of his life."
In Raishit Chochmah, Sha'ar Ha'yirah, R' Eliyahu relates that in the
month of Elul in the year 1570, he was visited in a dream by the soul of a
man who had died about three months before. The soul told R'
Eliyahu, "Man is judged here and punished to a much more exacting degree
than most people expect." Elsewhere in his work, R' Eliyahu writes that a
certain R' Lapidot told RaMaK that he had seen R' Yehuda bar Shushan in a
dream and the latter's face shown like the sun, and his beard glowed like
a lamp, because he had never spoken idle words in his lifetime.
R' Eliyahu passed away in Chevron in approximately 1587. (Gedolei Hadorot)
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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