Roy Neuberger - Jul. 10, 2015

This week’s Torah portion describes the culmination of a spectacular sanctification of G-d’s Name on the part of Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aharon the High Priest. Without exaggeration, he saved the Jewish people.

But why Pinchas? Moses and “kol adas bnai Yisroel… the entire assembly of the Children of Israel” (Numbers 25:6) were looking on. Nobody moved! What was different about Pinchas?

Moses was unafraid. He could stand up against six-hundred-thousand Jewish men at the incident of the Golden Calf, “yet here his hands became weak” (Rashi on Numbers 25:6).

What happened?

Rashi explains that “the law which applied to this situation was concealed from Moses,” so that Pinchas could assume the reward of priesthood which he deserved.

But we still have questions. If Moses had acted, Pinchas would not have needed to act. Why was this reward given, so to speak, at the expense of Moses, who forgot a law which he himself had taught? G-d could have given Pinchas priesthood without embarrassment to anyone else.

Because of the weakness of our people in the face of temptation, the Jewish people was placed in terrible danger. Only the courageous and self-negating action of one man saved us. What unique perspective do we gain from the zealous actions of Pinchas?

“Pinchas saw the incident and was reminded of the applicable law. He said to Moses, ‘I have been taught by you that zealots may kill one who has relations with a non-Jewish woman’” (Rashi on Numbers 25:7). Pinchas not only remembered the law which had been taught by Moses, but he alone was willing to act upon it!

Was this so amazing?

Yes, my friends, it is amazing!

What did Pinchas do?

Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aharon the High Priest listened!

Listening is huge! Our entire way of life is based on “Shema Yisroel … Hear, O Israel!”

We have to ask ourselves: am I listening to Torah or am I listening to myself? Upon what is my life based, Torah opinion or my own opinion? Eve made a big mistake in the Garden of Eden. Her action was based on her own opinion, and look at the results!

“Shema Yisroel, Hashem Elokainu, Hashem Echad!” Hear, O Israel!

Are we listening to the deafening drumbeat which echoes around us, or are our ears attuned to the words which emanate from Mount Sinai? In the desert, in this Torah portion, the Jewish People was sucked into a whirlpool of desire, a tsunami of temptation which obliterated their grasp of reality. Our ancestors came within a hair’s breadth of catastrophe because they fell into the trap of Bilaam’s provocative use of temptation.

At that moment Pinchas taught us that we can only survive when we listen to the words of our Rebbe! Only opinion based on Torah sees clearly! When our very life hangs in the balance, there is only one salvation! Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aharon was the quintessentially loyal disciple, whose every fiber was devoted to the words of his rebbe, Moses! Are we living like that?

In this era, when temptation is being thrown at us from every direction, when materialism is presented as the raison d’etre, the purpose of life, are we attached to Torah-based opinions and leadership? Do we understand the danger? Do we see the emptiness of the culture that surrounds us and the imminent possibility of a worldwide collapse? Do we take seriously the distinct possibility that in the very near future the culture that has ruled the world over the past millennia and shaped our civilization today will simply cease to exist?

Do we process this?

We stand at the threshold of Tisha B’Av - the Ninth of the month of Av, commemorating the destruction of both Holy Temples. Almost two thousand years ago our exalted Torah way of life collapsed in an inferno of flame and chaos. We were cast away into a world which was not our own, a sordid world controlled by the likes of Balak and Bilaam. This is where we have been forced to dwell for thousands of years, until our souls have become numbed by the coarse materialism around us. We are exposed on every side to the challenges that the Jewish people faced in this Torah portion, the temptation to succumb to the emptiness, the lewdness, the abominations, G-d forbid, the bottomless pit which yawns in front of us.

Only one thing stands to save us!

“Achas shoalti… one thing I asked of Hashem!” (Psalm 27), only one salvation exists, but to embrace it requires devotion and strength! Pinchas showed us the way! Zealousness means, my friends, to throw away all other thoughts than Torah-based guidance, adhering with total devotion to the holy words uttered at Mount Sinai.

“Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua, Joshua to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets … the Prophets transmitted it to the Men of the great Assembly,” (Ethics of the Fathers) and they to us!

This is our lifeline! “Shema Yisroel!”

Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon listened to his rebbe and saved his People! Is this such a big thing? We had better believe it is the biggest thing in the world! Without Pinchas there would be no Jewish People today! Torah-based guidance is life! Neither Bilaam nor his spiritual descendants love us! We have only One Friend in this world, Who has thrown us a Life Preserver. “Aitz chaim hi … it is a tree of life for those who grasp it!” (Proverbs 3:18)

Pinchas grasped it and showed us all the Road to Life! May we soon see the fulfillment of his pure vision and self sacrifice with the building of the Holy Temple and may we all live in a world where Torah reigns supreme!


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