By Rabbi Yisroel Ciner
This week we read the parsha of Pinchas. Bil'am, upon seeing that he was
unable to harm Bnei Yisroel (the Children of Israel) through cursing,
suggested a different option to Moav. Bil'am knew that Hashem despises
immorality -- it causes Him to distance Himself from Bnei Yisroel. He told
Moav to send their daughters to Bnei Yisroel to try to seduce them. The
nation of Midian joined Moav and sent their own daughters to also try to
seduce Bnei Yisroel. The successful implementation of this advice caused a
heavenly plague which left twenty four thousand of Bnei Yisroel dead.
"Pinchas ben Elazar...haishiv es chamasi... v'lo chilisi es Bnei Yisroel
(Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Kohen turned away My
anger... and I didn't destroy Bnei Yisroel) [25:11]."
Pinchas had acted courageously and zealously to stop the immorality that was
going on around him. This caused the cessation of the plague. Hashem
therefore rewarded him with Kehunah -- priesthood.
"And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: Harass the Midianites and kill them
[25:17]", to avenge that which they did to you.
Why was Moshe commanded to avenge Midian and not to avenge Moav? Rashi
[31:2] explains that the Moavites had a legitimate fear -- Bnei Yisroel
would be traveling right through their land. Midian, however, involved
themselves in a battle that wasn't theirs. The Bnei Yisroel wouldn't have
been traveling through their land and they had nothing to fear. Moshe was,
therefore, commanded to battle against them.
"Vayishlach o'som Moshe... v'es Pinchas ben Elazar (And Moshe sent them...
and Pinchas, the son of Elazar) [31:6]", to wage battle against Midian.
The Tosafos ask: 'If Hashem commanded Moshe to avenge, how could Moshe shun
this responsibility and send Pinchas?'
He offers an amazing explanation: 'Since Moshe had spent many years in
Midian when he had fled from Paroah, he felt it was improper for him to
personally wage a war against a nation that had helped him. As the
expression goes: Don't throw earth into a well that you drank from.'
The Ohr Yahel pursues this point further. Hashem told Moshe to avenge the
Midianites! How could Moshe disobey Hashem's command, even if Midian had
He explains that Moshe understood that, since he had grown up in Midian and
had benefited while there, Hashem's command to avenge Midian couldn't have
been for him personally to do it. Moshe had been commanded on Sinai:
"V'ha'lachta bid'ra'chav", to follow in the ways of Hashem! His personally
avenging Midian would be acting contrary to the ways of Hashem! Don't throw
earth into a well that you drank from...
It was clear to Moshe that the way to fulfill the command of Hashem was to
have Midian avenged through someone else. Through someone who didn't owe
them a debt of gratitude. He sent Pinchas. Pinchas who had begun the mitzvah
of defeating Midian was summoned to complete that task.
This midah (attribute) of 'hakaras ha'tov' -- recognizing and appreciating
what others have done for you and giving back in return -- is a midah of
Hashem. Everything in this world is accounted for. Sometimes we get a
glimpse of that accounting and other times we blindly miss or ignore it. But
the account is always settled...
Rav Paysach Krohn (In the Footsteps of the Maggid) tells of Rav Yosef
Reichner and his wife, Faigela, who lived with their eleven children in
Pressburg, Hungary in the mid-1800's. Eight of the children were boys and
were privileged to have been taught by an exceptional Rebbe, Rabbi Lazer
HaKohen Katz, known as the tzadik of Pressburg. His impact on the boys was
extraordinary and they endeavored to emulate him and his ways.
Years went by and Rav Lazer became weak and frail. Unable to continue
teaching, he spent his days alone in his apartment, subsisting on a meager
stipend given to him by a chessed (charitable) organization.
Mrs. Reichner, however, didn't forget the wonderful impact that Rav Lazer
had on her sons. Every day she'd send a package of food for lunch to Rav
Lazer's small apartment on a street known as Z'idvoska Ulitza (Jewish
Street). This package also contained enough for supper. Additionally, before
every Yom Tov (holiday) she would place some money in the package allowing
Rav Lazer to purchase something extra for the holiday. This went on for more
than twenty years!
Shortly after Pressburg became part of Czechoslovakia in 1925, Rav Lazer
passed away. A few years later, Rav Yosef Reichner and his wife, Faigela,
also passed away.
A generation later, on the night after Yom Kippur, 1944, the Nazis were
furiously raiding every Jewish house in Pressburg, searching for Jews to
deport to the concentration camps. All Jews that were found, regardless of
the passports they carried, were dragged off to meet their bitter fate.
Two Nazis burst into the home of Ashi Reichner, one of Mrs. Faigela
Reichner's eight sons. As they ordered him and his wife outside, Ashi turned
"You should be ashamed of yourselves disturbing elderly people in their
homes", he said with dignity. "What good can an old man like me be in a
"Out, both of you", barked the Nazi.
Outside, the Nazis suddenly disappeared. Ashi and his wife, Miriam, could
not figure out where they had gone but they knew that they must take
advantage of this unexpected chance for freedom. He said that Jews were
being hidden in a bunker somewhere on the left side of the city. She argued
that there was a safer place on the right side of the city. Terrified, they
argued in which direction they should run.
Ashi, in keeping with the Talmudic teaching that a woman is imbued with an
extra sense of insight, listened to his wife. They ran as fast as they could
to the right side of the city to the building where she had heard that the
Jews had found shelter.
They came to Z'idvoska Ulitza, ran up to the second floor of the building
and knocked violently on the door. A gentile woman, known as Aunt Anna,
recognized them as Jews and ushered them in. This noble woman risked her
life daily for eight months until the Russians came and liberated
Czechoslovakia. She would purchase enough food from the grocer to sustain
all of the people she was hiding in the apartment. She'd then cover the food
with either wool or coal so as not to arouse the suspicion of the Nazis
she'd pass in the street.
The Reichners were introduced to the other twelve people hiding in two rooms
behind a large closet. Remarkably, they found amongst them other Reichner
family members: their daughter, son-in-law and grandchild who had also
secretly made their way there.
How did the Reichners merit to have so many family members saved in this one
This apartment, many years before, had belonged to Rav Lazer... The same
apartment to which Mrs. Reichner had sent so many care packages to keep the
tzadik of Pressburg alive was now sheltering her children, grandchildren and
Everything in this world is accounted for. Sometimes we get a glimpse of
that accounting and other times we blindly miss or ignore it. But the
account is always settled...
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Yisroel Ciner
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author teaches at Neveh Tzion in
Telzstone (near Yerushalayim).