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shiur Pinchas 5781

Discord was sown, when the advice that Balaam gave to Balak, was enacted upon the Children of Israel. Although Balak was not able to curse Israel, being compelled instead to bless, he still managed to set up circumstances in an underhanded manner, whereby the kedushah (holiness) and emunah (faith) of B’nei Yisrael would be diminished. He knew that the only way to bring about malfeasance upon Israel was to cause them to sin; as a consequence, G-d would have to respond to Israel’s transgression.

Balak and Balaam conspired against Israel; and they sent out Moabite and Midianite women to entice Israel. “And the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods; and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods. And Israel joined himself unto the Baal of Peor; and the anger of the L-RD was kindled against Israel” (Numbers 25:1-3, JPS).

The kindling of H’Shem’s anger resulted in the form of a plague. Although the guilty were hanged after a makeshift court was held with the leaders of Israel residing, and a follow up by the judges of Israel further eliminated those who sinned in this incident, apparently, the plague continued to spread. The children of Israel were weeping, signifying teshuvah (repentance) outside of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Moses and Aaron were present at the Mishkan, when an Israelite prince brought a Midianite princess into his tent, in full view of everyone present outside the Mishkan. What an affront to the dignity of the nation, and an insult to H’Shem. Such effrontery was condemned in one swift action by Pinchas.

His response was born out of zealousness; Pinchas executed the Israelite man and his cohort. “So the plague ceased from the people of Israel.” For this zealous act, Pinchas was rewarded with a covenant of peace. As the Talmud explains, “The Holy One, blessed be He said to Moses, ‘Be the first to extend a greeting of peace to him,’ as it is written, wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace; and this atonement [that Phinehas has made] is worthy of being an everlasting atonement” (Sanhedrin 82b). Pinchas atoned for the sins of Israel, and reconciled the people to G-d.

dvar Pinchas 5781

The idolatrous nature of the Baal-Peor incident should shock the senses of those of us, who are G-d fearing today. We may easily ask, how could so many of the children of Israel fall prey to idolatry and licentiousness? Since this occurs after 38 years had passed from the time of the golden calf incident at Sinai, it can be inferred that the new generation had not guarded themselves against this enticing form of idolatry, nor fully learned from the mistakes of yesteryear.

Idolatry, whereof the “daughters of Moab” invited the Children of Israel to their feasts, designated for their g-ds, took rampant hold of B’nei Yisrael, and led towards immorality. How similar to the festivities that the previous generation took part in when worshiping the golden calf? Yet, Pinchas stood up, and took responsibility on his own by committing an act of zealousness. For this, he was rewarded with “a covenant of peace.”

Keep in mind, that those who had fallen prey to idolatry were executed at a makeshift tribunal, to meet the demands of the moment. While the plague still raged, an Israelite prince, Zimri took a Midianite princess, hand in hand, figuratively speaking, into his tent, in full view of the congregation. So, when Pinchas acted out of zealousness, by executing them on the spot, this may be viewed in light of the previous tribunal and executions.

Why a covenant of peace for such an aggressive act? Because he restored the Children of Israel, by reconciling them to G-d. As a result of his own zealousness, he took responsibility for the effrontery that ensued; and, definitively showed to all the people the sinfulness of the act. This would serve as an object lesson, of sorts, that would continue to make an impression on the people. Inasmuch that H’Shem awarded him with “a covenant of peace,” this shows that H’Shem approved of his act, because it was a swift response to a gross act of immorality that could have continued to run amuck; otherwise, Zimri’s immorality could have set a wrong example for the people, if it was not punished.

motzei Shabbos: G-d’s Integrity

the 2nd set of Balaam’s blessings

“G-d is not man to be capricious, or mortal to change His mind.
Would He speak and not act, promise and not fulfill?”

– Numbers 23:21, JPS 1985 Tanach

Targum Jonathan renders the same verse, in the following manner, essentially providing a significant explanation of the import of Balaam’s declarations:


“The Word of the living G-d is not as the words of men for the L-rd, the Ruler of all worlds, is the unchangeable, (but) man speaketh and denieth. Neither are His works like the works of the children of flesh, who consult, and then repent them of what they had decreed. But when the L-rd of all worlds hath said, I will multiply this people as the stars of the heavens, and will give them to possess the land of the Kenaanites, is He not able to perform what He hath spoken? and what He hath said, can He not confirm it?” (Targum Jonathan on Numbers 23:19, sefaria.org).


The nature of this explanation denotes Balaam’s insistence on G-d’s track record, with regard to not breaking His word. For not only multiplied B’nei Yisrael, like”the stars of the Heavens,” He also gave the Torah to B’nei the Yisrael, as he had told Moshe, that He would do at Mount Sinai; and, surely He would bring B’nei Yisrael into the promised land of Eretz Canaan, after the incident with Balak and Balaam.


R’ Bachya states, that “the essential difference between G’d and man is that G’d keeps His promises whereas man often deceives, [and] disappoints the people who have been promised by him” (sefaria.org). Furthermore, “Whereas man may change his mind concerning matters he had planned, which did not involve undertakings to his fellow man, he nonetheless is apt to have remorse, to change his mind before executing his plan. Not so G-d. When G-d decides on a course of action, He will not change His mind, even if such a change of mind does not involve a third party” (sefaria.org). And, “when man deceives or reneges, this is considered a serious flaw in his character” (sefaria.org).

Therefore, it may be important to keep in mind, based upon this commentary the benefits, of focusing upon character development, integrity, and keeping one’s word. These are all positive qualities to work on obtaining in life. Moreover, that our own words, should not contradict each other, as if we had two selves, in conflict with each other. Rather, it is important to aspire towards being yashar (upright) in all of our ways. Shavua tov (Have a good week).

Shabbos reflection: Drawing Near

As the 17th of Tammuz draws near, the connection seems so relevant to make. In a way, because of the Rafael Fire, burning fifteen miles away, imagining what occurred almost two thousand years ago in Jerusalem on the 17th of Tammuz seems more tangible. That is the day in 70 C.E. when the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem. Fires raged throughout the city; and the Temple was destroyed three weeks later on the 15th of Av.

Rafael Fire, Arizona

Drawing near to G-d seems like the most beneficial endeavor, at this time; and, perhaps, how my concerns about the fire may be channeled into the commemoration of the 17th of Tammuz on the first day of the week. Surely this would have been the only recourse of the pious two thousand years ago; drawing near to G-d at the time of an event that preceded one of the worst tragedies in Jewish history. Hopefully, any tragedies as a result of the Rafael Fire will be averted. H’Shem willing.

Curses into Blessings

parashas Balak 5781

“How shall I curse, whom G-d hath not cursed?” 

– Numbers 23:8, JPS 1917 Tanach

Before entering the Promised Land, B’nei Yisrael defeated the famous kings, Og and Sichog. Psalms attributes the victory to H’Shem, “to him that smote great kings; for His mercy endureth forever” (Psalm 136:17). The news of their defeat was heard by Balak, King of Moab, who grew disconcerted. “Moab was overcome with dread because of the children of Israel” (Numbers 22:3).

So, Balak sent for Balaam, who was the prophet of the nations; he sent for Balaam to curse the nation of Israel, knowing they were too strong for him to go against in battle. Yet, truth be told, B’nei Yisrael was not a threat to them, since H’Shem had told them not to against Moab. It was only the fear that spread among Moab that lead them to think a preemptive attack was possible.

Balaam saddled his donkey, and on the way to Moab, G-d sent an angel to impede his path. Three times, Balaam’s donkey stopped at the sight of the angel. Each time, Balaam, who could not see the angel, struck the donkey. The third time, the donkey verbally rebuked Balaam; and, G-d opened the eyes of Balaam, so that he could see the angel with a sword, standing in the middle of the road. 

Yet, G-d let Balaam continue on his way, strongly warning him to only speak the words that G-d would put in his mouth. Three times, Balak took Balaam to a mountain top to curse Israel; yet, each time he was compelled to bless Israel instead. So, every time Balaam attempted to point his finger, figuratively speaking, towards Israel, as if there was some immoral conduct or character trait amongst them, H’Shem compelled Balaam to say the opposite, in all truth, because Balaam’s initial critiques did not measure up to the truth of the moral integrity and character of Israel.

This is evidenced by the blessings themselves. “None hath beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath one seen perverseness in Israel; H’Shem his G-d is with him” (Numbers 23:21, JPS 1917 Tanach). “There is no enchantment with Jacob, neither is there any divination with Israel” (Numbers 23:23, JPS). “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, thy dwellings, O Israel” (Numbers 24:5, JPS). “Blessed be every one that blesseth thee, and cursed be every one that curseth thee” (Numbers 24:9, JPS).

The Persistence of Balaam

In parashas Balak, the “prophet of the nations,” Balaam is hired by Balaak, King of Moab to curse B’nei Yisrael. The Moabites had heard of how B’nei Yisrael defeated Sichon and Og, two Ammonite kings, and they feared for themselves. Specifically, Torah records that when they saw the multitude of B’nei Yisrael, they were overwhelmed with dread. The Hebrew word translated in this pasuk (verse) is koots. This is the same word used to describe how the Egyptians felt about the Children of Israel, generations ago, when they saw that “the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad” (Exodus 1:12, JPS).

The three attempts of the prophet, Balaam to curse Israel are thwarted by H’Shem. Each time, Balaam and Balaak bring seven offerings to H’Shem, hoping to appease Him; yet, H’Shem is adamantly opposed to Balaam’s intent to curse Israel. Balaam was told by G-d, even before he set out on his journey to Moab, with the princes sent by Balak, “‘Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people; for they are blessed’” (Numbers 22:12, JPS).

Yet, eventually, in response to the persistence of Balak’s emmisaries, G-d said to Balaam, “‘rise up, go with them; but only the word which I speak unto thee, that shalt thou do’” (Numbers 22:20, JPS). Later, on the journey to Moab, Balaam was reminded by the angel of H’Shem, “only speak the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak” (Numbers 22:35, JPS). Not only did H’Shem prevent Balaam from cursing Israel, He also caused Balaam to bless Israel instead. An example to be remembered, of how a blessing may be transformed into a curse through H’Shem’s Providence.

The Malevolence of Balaam

Within the overall narrative of the parashas, Balaam’s attempt to curse Israel in which he failed, is followed by an alternative plan to cause malevolence amongst the fledging nation of Israel. A curse would typically bring upon a people some sort of malaise, at the behest of spiritual powers having the ability to wreak havoc. Yet, being compelled by H’Shem to bless Israel, instead of cursing the Children Israel, Balaam was thwarted. Out of his frustration, he encouraged Balaak to send Midianite women to entice the Jewish men into idolatry and licentious behavior (Numbers 25:1-3).

Having undermined the kedushah (holiness) of Israel, through his devious advice to Balak, Balaam caused Israel to sin, therefore leaving them open to judgment from H’Shem (Nesivos Shalom). A “shield of protection” is guaranteed to the nation, when a strong connection to H’Shem is maintained through emunah (faith) and moral integrity. Both of these essentials were diminished when the people bowed down to the gods of the Moabites, and the men fell prey to licentiousness with “the daughters of Moab” (Numbers 25:1-2, JPS). As a result, H’Shem, who is both just and merciful, acted upon His Attribute of Justice, by causing a plague, when “the anger of the L-RD was kindled against Israel” ((Numbers 25:3, JPS).

drash parashas Chukat 5781

A chukat is a particular type of commandment that defies rational explanation. The parashas refers to the chukat (decree) of the parumah adumah (red heifer). The entire premise of the chukat of the red heifer points towards having emunah (faith) in the effectiveness of this remedy for contamination. In other words, it is only through a chukat that is not objectively clear to the intellect, through which a means of purification occurs. It is as if the goal of the chukat is to inspire our faith in the One who gave the decree.


The parumah adumah (red heifer) offering is slaughtered outside of the camp; it is completely burned in fire. Hyssop, cedar wood, and crimson thread are thrown into the fire with the red heifer. The ashes are used in a specific manner – only sparingly mixed with mayim chayim (living water; i.e. from a water source like a river). The purpose of this water with the mixture of ashes is to purify people who have come into contact with a dead body, and, therefore tamei (unclean). The water is sprinkled upon them on the third and the seventh day of their purification.

Paradoxically, the kohein who is tahor (clean) becomes tamei (unclean) when he performs the offering of the parumah adumah. This is the paradox: the very ashes of the red cow that cause an unclean person to become clean, cause the pure person, who prepares the ashes, to become impure. “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” (Job 14:4, JPS 1917 Tanach). Only G-d.


Additionally, the account of the passing of Miriam occurs right after the description of the chukat of the parumah adumah. The Sages infer that this exemplifies, how like an offering brings atonement, so does the death of a tzaddik (righteous person). Moreover, the passing of Aaron occurs in juxtaposition to a description of the garments of the Kohein Gadol. As the garments of the Kohein Gadol atone for sin, so does the death of a righteous person (Moed Katan 29a). The deaths of Aaron and Miriam brought atonement to the generation in the desert.

shiur parashas Chukat 5781

“And the soul of the people became impatient because of the way.”

  • Numbers 21:4, JPS, 1917 Tanach

B’nei Yisrael, as a result of circumstances that seemed beyond their control, grew impatient along the journey. By taking a roundabout way around the country of Edom, they felt they were moving further away from their destination . Their frustration manifested in the form of complaining; yet, the question may be asked, did they really have anything to complain about? What was the nature of their complaint. The Torah records that “the people spoke against G-d, and against Moses: ‘Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, and there is no water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.’” (Numbers 21:5, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Commentary explains that they were dissatisfied with the the mode of their existence. In other words, they were discontent not only with the bread and water that H’Shem provided for them, rather, also with the means that they received this provision. In particular, R. Bachya explains, that their complaint disparaged the manna, and the water from the “well of Miriam” that H’Shem had provided for them on their travels, because they were dependent each and every day on H’Shem to give what was necessary for their daily existence. This is in comparison to other nations, who were able to store up a supply of bread and water that was always available.

It was as if they were really saying that the bread and water they received was not in the manner that they would have preferred. Moreover, the manna did not seem substantial enough for the rigours of the wilderness that they had to endure. Yet, H’Shem provided for them on a daily basis, in order to test their faith in him; for they would have to trust that on the morrow, they would be able to collect the manna in the morning, during the weekdays. Of course, on the sixth day, they received a double portion for that day and Shabbat. They were tired of this type of day to day existence, and seemingly yearned for more security in their material needs.

Because of their complaints against Him, and the heavenly provision of manna, G-d sent fiery serpents that bit the people. Yet, when they acknowledged their wrong perspective, H’Shem told Moshe to make a copper serpent, and place it on a pole. “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he seeth it, shall live” (Numbers 21:8). Thus, as Rashi comments, when they looked up towards the serpent, they turned their hearts to their Father in Shomayim (Heaven).

dvar parashas Chukat 5781

“And there was no water for the congregation.” – Numbers 20:2

The well that provided water for the B’nei Yisrael in the desert, and “followed” them throughout their journeys, did so upon the merit of Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron. She was a prophetess, and a coleader with Moses and Aaron. “For I brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam” (Micah 6:4). However, when Miriam passed away, “there was no water for the congregation” (Numbers 20:2). Miriam was a righteous person; so, in her merit the water had been provided to the Children of Israel for thirty-nine years. When she passed away, the well dried up.

The Sages ask why the mentioning of Miriam’s death occurs right after the description of the chukat (decree) of the parumah adumah (red heifer). The answer given is to exemplify that just as an offering brings atonement, so does the death of a righteous person bring atonement for the people (Mo’ed Katan 28a). Additionally, concerning the death of Aaron, who was not permitted to enter the land of Canaan: “Aaron shall be gathered to his people” (Numbers 20:4), his death also brought atonement.

As commentary futher explains, “Wherefore is [the account of] Aaron’s death closely followed by [the account of the disposal of] the priestly garments? [to inform you] that just as the priest’s vestments were [means to effect] atonement, so is the death of the righteous [conducive to procuring] atonement” (Talmud: Moed Katan 28a, Soncino edition, www.halakhah.com). Therefore, both the deaths of Miriam and Aaron, because they were righteous persons, atoned for that generation.