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Parsha Pearls: Parshas Pinchas

Why the moon is smaller than the sun
But Chassidim Daven Late!
The Zealot Saves Everyone
What to Do When the Rabbi Doesn’t Answer
Pinchas and Yirmiyahu

"And one goat as a sin offering for Hashem." (Bamidbar 28:15)

The Gemara in Chullin 60b understands this to mean "a sin offering to atone for Hashem," and tells the following story to explain why Hashem needs atonement.

Originally, the sun and moon were created equal in size, but the moon argued to Hashem that two kings cannot share the crown. Hashem replied, "Go and make yourself smaller." The moon cried, "Master of the World! Because I said before You a good argument, must I make myself smaller?" So Hashem appeased the moon, "Go and rule over day and night." The moon said, "What good does a candle do in the middle of the day?" Hashem said, "Let Israel use you to count the days and years." The moon said, "That gives me no advantage, because they will also use the sun to count the seasons." Hashem said, "Let the tzaddikim be called small like you: Yaakov the small, Shmuel the small, Dovid the small." When He saw that she was not appeased, He commanded the Jews to bring an offering for Him to atone for shrinking the moon.

What does it mean to say that Hashem needs atonement?

The moon symbolizes the Jewish people, as we say in Kiddush Levanah, "You commanded the moon to renew itself, a crown of splendor for those born of the womb, who will in the future be renewed like it." And as the Gemara says in Succah 29a, an eclipse of the moon is a bad omen for the Jewish people.

The story of the moon's request to be bigger than the sun is a metaphor for the Jewish people. The Jewish people's request was that there should be no exile. We don't want to be downtrodden and oppressed, and we don't even want to be equal to the idol-worshipping nations. We want to go straight to the era when moshiach will rule the world and spread the truth of Hashem everywhere. But Hashem has a different purpose in mind for us, so He says, "Go and make yourself smaller." There must be an exile. The Jewish people must be purified and tested. They must spread the Torah to the ends of the earth.

At the same time, the Gemara in Succah 52b says that Hashem regrets creating exile (Succah 52b). This is not to be taken literally, as the Torah says (Bamidbar 23:19), "G-d is not a man, that He should regret." And the Gemara says in the same place that Hashem regrets creating the Yetzer Hara, which serves a good purpose: to test man and give him the opportunity to earn his reward. Rather, the Gemara means that there are good and bad sides to the exile and the Yetzer Hara, Hashem regrets the damage caused by them, yet knows they are necessary for the world. So He says, "Bring an offering to atone for Me for making the Jewish people small and exiling them." This is similar to the idea of the Taanis Chalom on Shabbos. The Gemara in Taanis 12b says that if one has a disturbing dream on Shabbos, he should fast on Shabbos, and then fast again during the week as an atonement for fasting on Shabbos. Fasting on Shabbos is considered a bad thing, yet must be done in these circumstances.

The atonement for making the moon smaller is brought on Rosh Chodesh, when the moon is at its smallest, symbolizing the time when the Jewish people is at the lowest depths of exile.

With this in mind, we can understand the Midrash in Shir Hashirim 2:7 which says, “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem.” With what did He make them swear? Rabbi Eliezer says: He made them swear by heaven and earth. The Maharal (Netzach Yisroel, Chapter 24) explains that just as the heavens and the earth keep to the order of nature decreed by Hashem, never changing, in the same way the Jewish people must keep the order of exile decreed by Hashem. And just as the heavens and earth, if they were to change their nature and order, would bring havoc and destruction to the world, so too if the Jewish people leaves the exile decreed on them by Hashem it would mean destruction for them, G-d forbid. Therefore they must not violate the decree.

Now, according to what we have said above, the heavens - the sun and moon - indeed did attempt to change their nature and wreak havoc on the world. The moon wished to become bigger than the sun, but Hashem said no, become smaller. The Midrash explicitly compares this to the Jewish people wishing to violate the decree of exile.

Although Rosh Chodesh is the time when the moon is at its smallest, Rosh Chodesh is a happy time because we know that it will now begin to wax greater and greater. In the same way, as Rabbi Akiva said to his colleagues (Makos 24b), when we see that all the negative prophecies - the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and the oppression of the Jewish people - have come true, we must rejoice because we know that from now on, things will only get better, the Jewish people will be rebuilt and moshiach will come.

Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aaron the kohein, turned away My anger from the children of Israel…therefore, say: behold, I am giving him My covenant of peace. (25:11-12)

The Satmar Rov, speaking in Bnei Brak in 1952, asked: Why was this a fitting reward for Pinchas's act? Furthermore, the Targum Yonasan ben Uziel adds to verse 12 the following words: "And I will make him a living angel and he will live forever to announce the redemption at the end of days." Why was this a fitting reward?

The Yalkut at the beginning of the parsha explains it more clearly: "Pinchas is Eliyahu. The Holy One, blessed is He, said: You made peace between Israel and Me in this world, so in the future as well you will make peace between Me and my children, as it says (Malachi 3:23-24), 'Behold, I am sending you Eliyahu the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of Hashem, and he will bring back the hearts of the fathers to the children.'"

Many Jews at the time saw Pinchas as a promoter of divisiveness and a starter of fights, who in his arrogance stood up against the entire tribe of Shimon and its well-respected leader. Thus we find that they degraded him (Rashi 25:11) and even wanted to excommunicate him (Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 48b). But in truth, he who acts with zeal and starts a dispute for the sake of the honor of Heaven is actually bringing peace and unity between the Jewish people and Hashem. On the other hand, those who make peace and unity with the wicked are actually causing disunion between the Jewish people and their Father in heaven. Therefore, since it seemed that Pinchas was causing disunion, Hashem spoke and proclaimed that he was actually a promoter of peace, and his reward was to be the announcer of the redemption, the time when there will be true peace between the Jewish people and Hashem and among the Jewish people themselves. Until that time, there cannot be complete peace and unity, for it is necessary to keep separate from the wicked. (Divrei Yoel p. 193)

And the sons of Korach did not die. (26:11)

Rashi says that the sons of Korach had thoughts of repentance at the last moment, so when Korach and his family fell into Gehinom, the sons were given a high place to sit on. In 1869 the Reform movement in Hungary, known as the Neologist movement, took over the official Jewish community organizations in each town. The Ksav Sofer and other leaders of the generation went to Budapest and asked the government that the Orthodox Jews be given the right to make their own separate organizations. Eventually their request was granted. The Ksav Sofer said at the time, "Now I have a new explanation of Tehillim 79 - 'A song of Assaf, G-d, gentiles have entered Your property, they have defiled Your holy sanctuary, they have made Jerusalem into rubble.' The question is: why is this called 'a song?' It should be called 'a lamentation!" Rashi answers that Assaf was happy that Hashem took out His anger on the wood and stone of the Temple, and not on the Jewish people themselves. Tosafos answers that Assaf, who was descended from Korach, rejoiced that the gates of the Temple sunk into the earth, for Hashem will surely bring them back up, and when He does, He will bring out the sons of Korach from the earth as well. But now I have a new answer: Assaf rejoiced that the destruction was wrought by gentiles and not by rebellious Jews, for when the reformers of our own people rule over us, it is much worse!"

One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the second lamb in the afternoon. (28:4)

The Gemora (Berachos 27a) says that the word "morning" means the first four hours of the day. Consequently, the morning Shmoneh Esrei prayer, which takes the place of the everyday offering, must be said during the first four hours of the day.

In 1953, after the passing of Rabbi Zelig Reuven Bengis, the Av Beis Din of the Eidah Chareidis, the members of the Eidah wanted to appoint the Satmar Rov as the next rov of Yerushalayim. But there were some who opposed this idea, saying, “How can we appoint as the rov of Yerushalayim a rebbe who davens after the proper times?” Reb Matisyahu Davis went to ask the Brisker Rov. The Brisker Rov strongly endorsed the choice of the Satmar Rov, and explained, “Davening late is the peculiar problem of Chassidim, and it is not the problem of our generation. The heresy of Zionism, on the other hand, is a much more serious problem, and it has already spread to almost all of the Jewish people, including some chareidim. In all the world, there is no true fighter against Zionism like the Satmar Rov, who is ready to give up all his honor and resources just to publicize the pure principles of emunah. There is no one as good as him for the position of Av Beis Din of the Eidah Chareidis, for the war against Zionism outweighs everything else.”

Then he added, “The Satmar Rebbe has a tradition from his fathers; war against the wicked is well-rooted in his family. His father the Kedushas Yom Tov and his grandfather the Yitav Lev were among the main fighters against the wicked [reformers] in Hungary. They established the standard of hisbadlus (separatism), and so they saved thousands of religious Hungarian Jews from being captured by Haskalah, as they were in Lithuania and Poland.”

He related that Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin was a great fighter against Chassidism as long as he was in Europe, but from the time he came to Yerushalayim and onwards he never spoke a bad word about Chassidim. In fact, one of his main talmidim was Reb Yeshaya Orenstein, a Chabad Chassid. “The reason for the change,” explained the Brisker Rov, “was that when he came to Yerushalayim and saw the great danger of the Chovevei Tzion, who dressed and acted like bnei Torah, and seemed to be coming to promote the great mitzvah of settling in the Land of Israel, when in truth their main objective was the heretical idea of nationalism; and also the danger of the maskilim who dressed like the religious Jews but had the goal of capturing innocent young souls for their modern schools, Reb Yehoshua Leib decided that now all arrows must be directed at them; we must fight side by side with the Chasidim against them.

“Today,” the Brisker Rov concluded, “the problem of the hour is Zionism. We must use all our strength against them – un tzvei milchamos ken men nisht firen (we can’t fight two wars at once).” (Uvdos Vehanhagos Leveis Brisk, v. 4 p. 67)

* * *

When Rabbi Menachem Schneerson became Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1950, a copy of his first public discourse was brought to the Brisker Rov. The Brisker Rov read it and then said, "He thinks he is moshiach, and we will eventually suffer from him." Then he added, "But we cannot waste energy fighting him, because the main fight today is against Zionism, and one can't fight two wars at once."

Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aharon Hakohein, turned away My anger from the children of Israel, when he acted out My anger in their midst, and so I did not destroy the children of Israel in My anger." (25:11)

The Torah is telling us that had Pinchas not acted, G-d would have destroyed the entire Jewish people. Why? After all, only Zimri and a few others were committing sins.

In v. 13 the Torah says, "And he made atonement for the children of Israel," and the Sforno comments, "By doing this before the eyes of all of them, he gave them atonement for their failure to protest against the sinners." In other words, the rest of the people had deserved punishment for not speaking out against the few who were sinning. We indeed find that the Gemara (Shabbos 55a) says that one who fails to rebuke a sinner is punished along with the sinner, and that is why even the righteous were punished in the destruction of the First Temple.

However, the Sforno does not explain how Pinchas's act atoned for the people's sin of not protesting. He seems to imply that it was because he acted in public, "before the eyes of all of them". The Torah itself seems to stress this when it says "in their midst". But even if it was in public, it was only Pinchas acting. How did this exonerate everyone else?

The Satmar Rav answered that Pinchas's heartfelt act, done in front of everyone, brought into the hearts of all the Jews great admiration and envy. Chazal say that there is a kind of envy that is constructive and good: "Envy of the Sages will increase wisdom" (Bava Basra 21a). Here too, their admiration for Pinchas caused them to regret that they had not also done what he did, and they were overcome with powerful thoughts of repentance on their sin of not protesting. It was this repentance that brought them atonement.

Now we can explain the words "in their midst" differently. Pinchas, through his action, brought into midst of the Jewish people's hearts admiration and kinah (envy), which caused their sin to be atoned. (Al Hageulah V'al Hatemurah, Chapter 116)

And the name of the Israelite man who was smitten, who was smitten with the Midianitess, was Zimri, son of Salu, a prince of a family of the Shimonites; and the name of the woman who was smitten, the Midianitess, was Kozbi, daughter of Tzur, a head of a family in Midian. (25:14-15)

Rashi says: Just as the Torah gives the lineage of the righteous man (Pinchas) for praise, so it gives the lineage of the wicked man for denigration.

The Kli Yakar asks: We understand how the lineage of Pinchas from Aharon and Elazar is praise. But how is it denigration of Zimri to say that he was the son of Salu? Did we ever hear of Salu being a wicked man? He answers that the names Zimri and Salu themselves contain a hint to the sin of Zimri. Although they were given these names long ago, after the sin people looked into their names and realized their significance.

What was the sin of Zimri? On the surface, he took a Midianite woman. But Chazal imply that there was more to it. In Sotah 22b, it is told that when King Yannai was on his deathbed, his wife was worried about who would inherit the throne. “You became a Sadducee and killed the Sages. Perhaps the people will take revenge on our children and pick a different king.” He said to her, “Do not fear the Pharisees, for although they oppose me, they have principles and they would never take it out on my sons. Do not fear the Sadducees because they are my allies. But beware the painted ones, whose outside does not match their inside. They seem to be Pharisees, but are actually not. Their deeds are like those of Zimri, yet they ask for reward like Pinchas.”

In other words, Yannai was not worried about people who make their views open and clear. He was more worried about those who pretend to be something they’re not, because they might be secretly planning to overthrow his dynasty while hiding behind the disguise of the principled Pharisees.

The Maharsha asks two questions here: 1) Zimri committed his sin in public; in fact, the public nature of the sin was the reason why it was considered so serious. The law that “zealots may kill him in the act” only applies in public. If so, how can the Gemara say that someone could secretly act like Zimri while pretending to be righteous like Pinchas? A sin committed secretly is, by definition, not similar to Zimri’s sin. 2) Yannai was obviously not telling his wife to fear those who marry Midianite women. Rather, he was referring generally to sinners who pretend to be righteous, and Zimri and Pinchas are merely examples of wicked and righteous men. If so, why did he pick specifically these examples?

The Kli Yakar answers both of these questions based on the Gemara in Sanhedrin 82a, quoted by Rashi on 25:6. Zimri took Kozbi to Moshe and said, “Son of Amram, is this woman forbidden or permitted? And if you say she is forbidden, who permitted you to marry the daughter of Yisro?” Moshe forgot the halacha, and all the Jews moaned and wept.

We see here that Zimri tried to give himself a righteous image. He publicly asked Moshe whether it was forbidden, and when Moshe did not answer, he went ahead with the act, claiming that the lack of an answer meant that he had the right to decide on his own. Thus, Yannai told his wife to fear those who, like Zimri, commit a sin while claiming that they are completely righteous and are doing nothing wrong.

Part of Zimri’s sin was that he acted as if he were righteous, and so when people analyzed his name, they found a hint to this trait. Zimri comes from the root “lezamer,” meaning to sing praise: thus, he sang his own praises. His father’s name, Salu, resembles the word “solu,” meaning praise (Tehillim 68:5). Kozbi comes from the root “kazav” meaning falsehood: she represented herself falsely. Her father’s name, Tzur (rock), indicates that she elevated herself like a high rock. The Torah makes a point of calling them princes or heads, because that is what arrogant people aspire to be.

This is why the Torah repeats the words “who was smitten”. The first time, it refers to his name: after what Zimri did, people analyzed his name and found it faulty, smitten. The second time, it refers to the actual killing of Zimri.

On the 10th and 11th of Sivan 5673 (1913), a preliminary version of the constitution of Agudath Israel was drafted by the temporary committee. (This document, marked “top secret,” is a collector’s item today.) In Chapter 9, titled "Moetzes Chachmei Hatorah", the following is stated (paragraphs 55-61):

The Moetzes Chachmei Hatorah is composed of at least 23 members of Agudath Israel who are known as Gedolei Torah. In connection with the matters of Agudath Israel, this council will clarify and decide the laws of the holy Torah… The Moetzes is obligated to decide on a matter when the leadership committee, the Central Committee or the Knessia Gedolah present a question to it… When the leadership committee sees a great need to bring some matter whose decision rests with the Moetzes to completion, the committee must limit the time in which the Moetzes must reach a decision. When the time limit has passed, the Committee has submitted its request again and the answer of the Moetzes is still not forthcoming, this will signify that the Moetzes forfeits its right to decide on this matter. An explanation of reasons must accompany each Moetzes decision.

At the Second Knessia Gedolah in 1929, a permanent constitution was ratified. The notion that the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah is obligated to answer and give reasons, and that the absence of a decision within a limited time grants license to the activists to decide on their own, was not accepted. (Mikatowitz Ad Hei Beiyar, pp. 18-19)

However, this is precisely what happened in 1946-48 at the time of the founding of the Zionist state. The Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah did not convene from 1937 until the end of 1951. During this crucial period the Agudah activists had to be satisfied with asking various gedolim individually. At a meeting in March 1946 regarding Agudah’s appearance before the Anglo-American Committee, it was reported that they had consulted with the Brisker Rav on the subject of a Jewish state, and he had not given his opinion, only said that it was a very serious issue and we must think about it. The Chazon Ish said that he would not get involved and would not give any answer. Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Finkel expressed his opinion against it. Rabbi Yosef Cahaneman did not answer, but said that he was willing to attend a gathering, provided that it would take place in the house of the Chazon Ish (ibid. p. 100).

In September 1946, Agudah leaders visited Rabbi Dushinsky, the Brisker Rav, Rabbi Akiva Sofer and Rabbi Yosef Cahaneman to ask what Agudah’s stance should be on partition. All of these gedolim asked that their comments not be publicized, and said that all the rabbis needed to convene at one table in order to reach a joint decision. Despite all efforts, such a convention was never held (ibid. p. 103).

In October 1946, at a meeting to discuss Agudah’s participation in the Palestine Conference in London, Yaakov Senkowitz said, “We have to make every effort to get Daas Torah, but if we don’t get it, we must decide ourselves.” Feldman said, “We need to get Daas Torah, but after all, the Executive Committee was elected by the Knessia Gedolah with the agreement of the rabbis and are also entitled to an opinion. If the gedolim do not make a decision, it means that they are giving over the matter to the Executive Committee.” Rabbi Yitzchok Meir Levin agreed with Feldman. Mordechai Buxbaum said, “We must decide our position on our own, if Daas Torah is not forthcoming.” (ibid. pp. 96-98)

Throughout 1947-48, the Agudah leaders tried to convene the Moetzes, but to no avail. In the end, when Agudah joined the Zionist government, Levin wrote to Yaakov Rosenheim, “In New York the World Executive Committee decided that it had to join the government. After all, the Executive Committee also has a say about these issues… I don’t remember which of the Gedolei Hatorah were against it…” (ibid. p. 89)

And in a speech to Agudah members in September 1951, Levin said, “At the time of the establishment of the state, the World Executive Committee and the National Center in Israel decided to join the temporary government. After the first Knesset elections, the question of Agudah’s participation in the permanent government was brought before the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah…”

Yet in another speech in that same year, Levin claimed that “we decided in accordance with the decision of Agudath Israel’s supreme institution, Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah, to join the government.” (ibid. p. 118)

Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aharon the kohein, turned away My anger from the children of Israel…therefore, say: behold, I am giving him My covenant of peace. (25:11-12)

Rashi says that because the Jews derided Pinchas as the grandson of Yisro, who was originally an idolworshipper, the Torah comes and proclaims his descent from Aharon.

Many Jews at the time saw Pinchas as a promoter of divisiveness and a starter of fights, who in his arrogance stood up against the entire tribe of Shimon and its well-respected leader. They thought that his zealous act emanated from his non-Jewish ancestry - not from Ahavas Yisroel. But in truth, his act actually brought peace and unity between the Jewish people and Hashem. On the other hand, those who make peace and unity with the wicked are actually causing disunion between the Jewish people and their Father in heaven. Therefore, since it seemed that Pinchas was causing disunion, Hashem spoke and proclaimed that he was actually a promoter of peace. His act emanated from his grandfather Aharon, who "loved peace and sought after peace" (Avos 1:12).

Pinchas' reward was to become Eliyahu, the announcer of the redemption, the time when there will be true peace between the Jewish people and Hashem and among the Jewish people themselves. In the words of the Yalkut: "Pinchas is Eliyahu. The Holy One, blessed is He, said: You made peace between Israel and Me in this world, so in the future as well you will make peace between Me and my children, as it says (Malachi 3:23-24), 'Behold, I am sending you Eliyahu the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of Hashem, and he will bring back the hearts of the fathers to the children.'"

The Haftarah for this week is the first chapter of Yirmiyahu. Hashem gave Yirmiyahu the unpopular mission to speak out against the leaders of his time: "And you shall gird your loins and arise and speak to them all that I command you; do not fear them, or I will cause you to fall before them. And I, behold, have made you today a fortified city, a pillar of iron and walls of copper against all the land: the kings of Yehuda, its officers, its kohanim and the people of the land. And they will fight against you but will not defeat you, for I am with you, said Hashem, to save you" (1:17-19).

But the very first words Yirmiyahu was commanded to say publicly were in praise of the Jewish people: "Go and call in the ears of Jerusalem, saying: So said Hashem: I remember for you the kindness of your youth, the love of your bridal days, how you walked after Me into the desert, an arid land. Israel is holy to Hashem, the first of His harvest. All who persecute it will be guilty; evil will befall them, said Hashem" (2:2-3). This was to emphasize that the criticism that was to come was all from Hashem and was motivated solely by Ahavas Yisroel - like Pinchas' act.

Yirmiyahu had to fight not only against the nations' leaders in Jerusalem; he also had to fight those Jews already in Babylon who wished to return to Eretz Yisroel prematurely. Rabbi Naftali Adler was the chief rabbi of England in 1899, and in reaction to the then-new Zionist movement, he said as follows: “When the Jewish people went into the Babylonian exile, there were among them some who found no rest under the enemy government, and their only thought all day long was to return to their land. The false prophets among them told them to rebel against the king of Babylon.

“At that point, Yirmiyahu the Prophet wrote a letter from Jerusalem to the elders, Kohanim and Levites who had already gone to exile. The letter said, ‘Thus said Hashem Tzevaos, G-d of Israel, to all the exiles that I exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them, plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, give your daughters to husbands, let them have sons and daughters, increase there and do not decrease. And seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you, and pray on its behalf to Hashem, for with its peace you will have peace. For so says Hashem Tzevaos, G-d of Israel: Do not let your prophets and sorcerers fool you; do not listen to their dreams, with which they answer your queries. For they prophecy to you falsely in My name; I did not send them, said Hashem… And you shall call Me, and go to pray to Me, and I will hear you. And you shall seek Me and find Me, if you seek Me with all your heart… and I will restore your captivity, and gather you from all the nations, and from all the places where I have scattered you…’ (Yirmiyahu 29:4-9)."

Rabbi Adler continued, “The prophet’s letter is indeed long, but very fitting for this movement. And I say: In the Babylonian exile they had a well-known and short time limit of seventy years, yet Yirmiyahu found it necessary to warn them so much with the word of Hashem to stay put and not take any action on their own. Now that the end is hidden and sealed, and we are forbidden under oath from taking any action, certainly we must not deviate from the words of the prophet in his letter that he sent to the exiles.

“My brothers! I look at this movement with worry in my heart, since I see it as opposed to the Torah of Hashem and to politics. There is a great danger involved in it. That is why I don’t see in it the great quality of love of Zion.”