By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
People struggle with direction on how to act and react when confounding situations arise. New diseases that have never been previously encountered pop up and begin to spread. Unfamiliar with the illness, doctors don’t know how to treat it and people are overcome with fear. A tragedy occurs, everyone frets, and nobody knows how to react. A frightening situation ensues and there are many capable, trained people around who should be able to tackle it, but they become frozen by fright and are unable to respond.
It is not enough to be intelligent, to have been trained, or to be proficient in everything during good times. To be really great, you have to be able to perform in a time of crisis.
Great people have the fortitude and self-confidence to rise above chaos, research the facts, get a clear idea of what is really going on, and do what must be done to rectify the situation. In trying times, many people wait for someone to come to the fore, to rise above everyone else and provide leadership.
This week’s parsha highlights the role played by Pinchos, who personified the strength that was essential to saving Klal Yisroel from destruction. The Alter of Kelm writes that the Torah described the background of Zimri and Kozbi to demonstrate the strength of Pinchos. Although Zimri was the nosi of shevet Shimon and Kozbi was the daughter of a king in Midyan, Pinchos arose from the entire community and fearlessly smote them. He didn’t make cheshbonos, like so many people do, about what would await him for performing his act. There was a crisis situation, everyone was overcome by fear, and one man emerged and, with a potent inner strength, did what had to be done.
FEARLESS AND STRONG
Because of the strength of Pinchos, Klal Yisroel was saved from being wiped out in a plague. The Torah relates the story of Pinchos to teach us for all time that we must be strong and determined. To maintain the Jewish people, we must be fearless of man and loyal only to Hashem. Had Pinchos feared retribution, the ensuing plague would have wiped out the Jewish people. Had he not been bold and courageous, everyone would have suffered.
Had he paid heed to people who mocked him, tracing his lineage to Yisro, he may have regretted his act, but great men, who engage in great acts, cannot pay attention to what people say at the time. People who act without personal considerations do not get caught up in the moment. They reflect on the necessity of their action and how it will be perceived long after the interested parties have gone from the scene.
The posuk states, “Vayokom mitoch ha’eidah – And Pinchos emerged from within the community” (Bamidbar 25:7).
Pinchos stepped forward from amongst the people to save his generation and inspire those who followed regarding how to conduct themselves when the going is tough and the people are apathetic, lethargic, or simply overcome by fear. The act that evoked Hashem’s wrath was performed in public, but nobody responded.
Since Pinchos was the only person who was bothered enough by the sacrilege to approach Moshe to discuss the halacha of how to respond, he earned the right to react. When action is called for, there are always valid excuses not to get involved. Great people look beyond the justifications for inaction and often alter the face of history. In our private lives, we should resist the temptation to seek excuses for lethargy and indecisiveness.
The Medrash states that when a person rids the world of some form of evil, as Pinchos did, it is as if they have brought a korban. We can explain that when a person brings a korban after committing an aveirah, the sinner arranges forgiveness for his improper act. Aveiros cause separation between the sinner and Hashem. The korban removes that barrier and re-establishes their relationship.
Aharon is the paragon of shalom, not only because he made peace between men, but because his avodah in the Mishkon brought about shalom between man and his Creator. By repairing the breach in the relationship between the Jewish people and Hashem, Pinchos engaged in the work of his father, Elozor, and his grandfather, Aharon. He was rewarded with the promise of peace, as the posuk says, “Hineni nosein lo es brisi shalom,” because what he did removed the separation that sins cause between Hashem and Klal Yisroel. Hashem is the Source of life and the Torah is an eitz chaim. Torah sustains Am Yisroel. But sins cause them to separate from the Source of all life, causing plagues to ensue.
When Pinchos arose from amongst the group and acted to eliminate the sin that caused the separation, he reunited the Jews with Hashem, bringing about shalom and shleimus. As they became reconnected, the mageifah ended and Pinchos was blessed with eternal shalom. Although he wasn’t born with kehunah, he had now earned it, for he performed the task of the kohein, bringing shalom and shleimus between man and Hashem.
CATALYST FOR GEULAH
Parshas Pinchos ushers in the period of Bein Hametzorim, the Three Weeks. The lesson of Pinchos is most significant at this time of year, as it reminds us that every person can make a difference and be a catalyst for the geulah.
During this period, when we concentrate on lamenting the loss of the Bais Hamikdosh and our inability to bring korbanos, engaging in acts of mourning should not suffice. There are many breaches that need to be filled and there is much lacking in our otherwise great community.
The Rambam in Hilchos Teshuvah (3:4) famously directs us to view the world as perfectly balanced between impurity and holiness. One single deed can tilt the balance and bring the universe to a state of kedusha and geulah.
If we would each take that admonishment more seriously, we could help bring the geulah quicker. If when we see iniquity, we would, while acting in constancy with halacha and halachic guidance, not engage in conventional calculations of loss and gain, but rather act like Pinchos did, we would help make the world a better place. This does not mean that we should act rashly and without consideration, but if responsible people would speak truth to power more often, the corrupt would be thwarted, the crooked would be blocked, and the immoral would be prevented from carrying out their designs.
Rav Yaakov Emden writes that the length of our golus might be a result of not sufficiently mourning the churban. He decries the lack of passion, tears and mourning. We engage in the minhagim of aveilus, but fail to recognize what it is that we are mourning.
Until just recently, we have felt very comfortable in our golus, often forgetting that, in fact, we are in golus. We felt at home here. Current events have shaken those who are blessed with foresight, as they sense unwelcome changes in the offing.
We live in a time when it’s not facts that count, but perceptions. As people increasingly rely on bits of second-hand information to form opinions, a fake reality exists in many minds. Assumptions are made and conclusions are arrived at.
To rectify a problem, an honest assessment must be undertaken based on facts and a proper analysis. When we allow biased suppositions to govern our judgment, we fail in our missions and lose to our enemies.
We live in trying times. We live in a time when many leaders are corrupt and inept. We see a vacuum and fear that it is being filled by nefarious persons. We see foundations being ripped asunder and essential fundamentals being toppled. As we wait in vain for the breach to be filled, they only deepen. We mustn’t wait for others to rise. We must arm ourselves and be prepared to act, lest our cardinal elements erode. It is imperative for caring people to restore the goodness and greatness.
Pinchos arose from amongst everyone to avenge public sins, but before acting, he discussed the issue with Moshe Rabbeinu, who told him, “Karyana de’igarta ihu lehevi parvaknei. Because you are the one who objectively studied the issue and arrived at the proper conclusion, you have earned the right to respond.”
For Pinchos to merit acting on behalf of Moshe, it was not sufficient for him to be courageous. He also had to be objectively correct. Because he acted without bias, he was able to succeed in vanquishing the temptations that ripped at Am Yisroel.
As we view the challenges our day presents, we must act like Pinchos, with sound reasoning, objective analysis of the facts, and the approval of Moshe Rabbeinu, while remaining impervious to the vanity of shifting public opinion. If we act as he did, we will be able to overcome the serious nisyonos that abound and merit the brocha of shalom b’shleimus.
While during the current period we engage in acts of mourning to commemorate the loss of the Bais Hamikdosh, all throughout the year, at weddings, the choson breaks a glass while he stands under the chupah next to his kallah. Through this act, just as their mothers had done by breaking a plate prior to the chupah, the young couple proclaims that Jewish joy is not complete as long as we are bereft of the Bais Hamikdosh.
While the new couple stands under the canopy, which signifies their new home, they view the crowd that has gathered and perceive how much joy they have brought to so many people. Hundreds are often present to share in their joy. Much money and many hours of effort and preparation have been expended to bring about this moment. When it comes down to it, it is all for two individuals, who are often young and have not yet made their mark on the world. They see the power they possess and the faith the community has in them. The intense joy serves as a catalyst for them to realize that they have the ability to return the Jewish people to their home, to their chupah with Hashem at the Bais Hamikdosh. At the apex of joy, the chosson smashes the glass to signify that he knows that we are in exile and that he will do what he can to bring about the redemption.
Thus, Chazal say, “Kol hamesamei’ach chosson vekallah ke’ilu bonoh achas m’churvos Yerushalayim. If one brings joy to a young couple, it is as if he has rebuilt a destroyed home in Yerushalayim.”
EMPOWERED AND VALIDATED
When you bring joy to people, you are validating their worth. You are telling them that you appreciate them and their abilities. When you make a young couple happy, you are telling them to look at the good side of things, to use their strengths to bring good and positivity to the world. You are telling them to look aside from those who are negative and to separate themselves from people who are no good. When you add to their joy, you are telling them that they have what it takes to bring about the rebuilding of Yerushalayim.
We can empower people through joy and celebration, and we can remind them of their abilities through our actions. We each possess the ability to not only rebuild parts of Yerushalayim, but to cause the Bais Hamikdosh to be returned. We have to be like Pinchos, responsible and great, bold and brave, fearless and strong.
We can all do it.