drash Pinchas 5781

 “Behold, I give unto him My covenant of peace.”

– Numbers 25:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

Pinchas, a grandson of Aaron, Kohein Gadol, nevertheless, had not been granted the status of a kohein (priest), at the time that Aaron and his four sons were designated as such. Rather, only the progeny of Aaron’s sons after their designation as kohein would also become kohein. Pinchas, having already been born at that time, did not automatically become one. Only the future born sons of Aaron’s sons would have that status. Yet, an exception was made, later on in the life of Pinchas, as shown from the narrative recorded in the Torah portions of Balak and Pinchas.

In spite of Balaam’s inability to curse Israel, he compels Balak to enact a devious plan. He explains to Balak that the way to bring malaise and judgment upon Israel is to weaken their kedushah (holiness) from the inside. Therefore, “through the counsel of Balaam,” given to Balak, King of the Moabites, both Moabite and Midianite women were sent to entice the people, “who began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moab” (Numbers 25:1, JPS). Moreover, a leader of one of the tribes, Zimri, was seen with a Moabite princess.

Pinchas “rose up from the midst of the congregation” (Numbers 25:8, JPS). He followed the Israelite man into his tent, and executed both Zimri and his cohort. For this act, described as a zealous act for the L-rd, the plague that H’Shem inflicted upon the people for their harlotry ceased. Also, Pinchas himself was rewarded with H’Shem’s covenant of peace, an eternal covenant of priesthood, “‘because he was jealous for his G-d, and made atonement for the children of Israel'” (Numbers 25:13). This may sound like a conundrum, for how can he be rewarded with “a covenant of peace, for acting out of zealousness in such an aggressive manner?

Pinchas, was the only Israelite to take responsibility for the effrontery of Zimri and his cohort. For this outrage, of a Prince of Israel (Zimri) cohabiting with a Moabite princess, when he took her into his tent in full view of the congregation, could have set off sparks that would undermine the teshuvah (repentance) of the Israelites, and set an example of the worst kind. Moreover, Zimri’s very act is considered to be a challenge to the authority of Moses. When Pinchas acted, he brought peace between G-d and His people, thus compelling H’Shem to stop the plague that He had enacted as a punishment for the immorality of the people.

parashas Yisro 5781 – Mattan Torah

B”H

d’rash for parashas Yisro (Exodus 18:1 – 20:23) 5781 – Mattan Torah

“And He said: ‘Certainly I shall be with thee; and this shall be the token unto thee, that I have sent thee: when thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve G-d upon this mountain.” 

– Exodus 3:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

“I promise thee that when thou hast brought them forth from Egypt ye will serve Me upon this mountain — i.e. that ye will receive the Torah upon it.” – Rashi, sefaria.org

When G-d spoke to Moshe at the burning bush, Moshe asked, “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11, JPS).  G-d assured Moshe, despite his own doubts, that he would know that he was chosen as the Redeemer of B’nei Yisrael, when he would “serve G-d on this mountain.” In other words, that B’nei Yisrael “would serve Him at the very spot Moses was standing on at that moment” (Or HaChayim, sefaria.org). For this was the culmination of the Exodus from Egypt – the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.  “And it came to pass on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of a horn [shofar] exceeding loud; and all the people that were in the camp trembled” (Exodus 19:16, JPS). 

The impressive array of fireworks was more than a celebration of the liberation of a people from slavery.  Rashi explains that H’Shem preceded the people, by appearing on Mount Sinai first, even before Moshe went up to receive the commandments. He explains that usually a teacher does not wait for the pupil; however, H’Shem’s august Majesty preceded Him, and His Presence alighted on the mountaintop.  “Now mount Sinai was altogether on smoke, because the L-RD descended upon it in fire; and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly” (Exodus 19:18, JPS).  “And the L-RD came down upon mount Sinai, to the top of the mount; and the L-RD called Moses to the top of the mount; and Moses went up” (Exodus 19:20, JPS 19 Tanach).

Moshe, who had previously “hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon G-d,” when H’Shem appeared to him at the burning bush, must have gained some confidence since that time.  Only Moshe was permitted to climb Mount Sinai, to speak with G-d.  Furthermore, he was told by H’Shem to “charge the people, lest they break through unto the L-RD to gaze, and many of them perish” (Exodus 19:21, JPS 1917 Tanach).  For as is written elsewhere, “G-d is a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24).  He is to be approached with awe and respect. “Thou shalt fear the L-RD thy G-d; Him shalt thou serve; and to Him shalt thou cleave [deveykus]” (Deuteronomy 10:20, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The Torah given on Mount Sinai is eternal.  It was given to the B’nei Yisrael (Children of Israel) as a ketubah (a marriage contract) between G-d and Israel.  This is why when a synagogue receives a new sefer Torah, it is placed under a chupah (a marriage canopy), and paraded around, while people celebrate.  At Sinai, the people entered the covenant with great awe and respect.  And, even before receiving the commandments, they said, “na’aseh v’nishmah,” we will do and we will understand. In other words, first we will do, then we will understand; only after performing the commandments, will we begin to fully understand their value, meaning, and intent. This was the commitment that B’nei Yisrael made, in regard to the commandments given by the L-RD our G-d, who redeemed us from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 20:2).

Simchat Torah 5781

the Fiery Torah

“At His right hand was a fiery law unto them.”

– Deuteronomy 33:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

On Simchas Torah, the entire portion of V’zot HaBeracha is read; this is the last parashas of the Torah. Afterwards, the first part of Bereishis, the first parashas of the Torah is read, in order to make the statement that we begin anew, immediately following an ending. This reminds of the saying, when one door closes, another door opens, meaning that when one endeavor is brought to its conclusion, another opportunity will prevail. The seasons of nature, as well as the seasons of our lives reflect this theme.

Within the framework of the parashas, B’nei Yisrael is poised to enter Eretz Cannan; Moshe is intent on imparting a beracha (blessing) to them. This blessing parallels the blessing that Jacob gave to his twelve sons; inasmuch that Moshe has been the king and prophet over B’nei Yisrael, he is giving a blessing to the twelve tribes.

Moshe begins, “The L-RD came from Sinai,” therefore, emphasizing H’Shem’s presence, of Whom “at His right hand was a fiery law unto them” (Deuteronomy 33:2, JPS). “The voice of the L-RD heweth out flames of fire” (Psalm 29:7, JPS). H’Shem’s voice appeared as fire that engraved the commandments into the two stone tablets. On Simchat Torah, we rejoice knowing that H’Shem will also eventually engrave these words on our heart in due time:

“This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the L-RD, I will put My law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their G-d, and they shall be My people.”

– Jeremiah 31:33, JPS 1917 Tanach

parashas: Zealousness

B”H

Shiur for parashas Pinchas 5780

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.
The response was swift: 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 demonstrated remarkable zealousness towards H’Shem; yet, the action that he took was an exceptional case. Today, H’Shem would like us to show our devotion to Him through our avodah (prayer of the heart), and our ma’asim tovim (good deeds). Shabbat shalom.

parashas Pinchas 5780

reflections: Vision

https://unsplash.com/@bamagal

B”H

“Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint; but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

– Proverbs 29:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

A greater vision, somewhere upon the horizon, waits for realisation to take hold in our hearts; in order to see beyond, reach past, and fly over this wilderness, hope must take root in our souls. Yet, even without hope, “Surely the L-RD’S mercies are not consumed, surely His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23, JPS 1917 Tanach). G-d’s faithfulness towards us, reveals the promise of a new day. “The path of the righteous is as the light of dawn, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Proverbs 4:18, JPS).

We are welcome to board this ship to a brighter tomorrow; so, let’s prepare ourselves for the journey. Rambunctious disregard of G-d’s words will only lead us further astray; the aseret hadibrot (ten utterances) are meant to resonate within our being, in like manner that they were received at Sinai. “If the L-RD delight in us, then He will bring us into this land, and give it unto us—a land which floweth with milk and honey” (Numbers 14:8). “For the L-RD taketh pleasure in His people; He adorneth the humble with salvation” (Psalm 149:4). “To-day, if ye would but hearken to His voice” (Psalm 95:7).