Friday, July 6, 2007

PINCHAS - BLESSINGS OF PEACE

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman


At the end of last week's Parshat Balak, we see Pinchas rising to the occasion, firmly and directly putting an end to the plague by his bold and forthright action. In contrast, Israel's tribal elders were seemingly beset by tears, self-doubt and paralysis. Pinchas followed Zimri and Kozbi into the inner chamber, spear in hand, where he dispatched them through the groin. The Hebrew reveals the deeper meanings. Balak says to Bilaam (Num 23:24): "if you can't curse them, at least don't bless them." In Hebrew this is expressed as "gam KoV lo tiKaVenu gam barech lo tivarchenu." Also the word for groin and inner chamber both share the same Hebrew letters as curse-KuBah (inner chamber) and KuBah (groin). This is hinting to us that Israel's inner chamber - the home, must remain pure from immorality for Hashem's deepest blessings to adhere.

Thus with curse and cult we see a linkage. Israel's curse is activated by an abuse of the sexual in the service of the Moabite Baal Peor cult. Moab's aetiology as based in the incestuous immorality of its origins vis a vis Lot and his daughters, now serves to fuel and justify its cultic immorality. Thus only spearing through the KuBaH (groin) could stanch the plague/curse. In fact the word for spear itself, in Hebrew, is RoMaCH, an anagram of the very word for mercy(RaCheM). Perhaps this is to teach us that true mercy at times requires harsh measures.

More pointedly, the text alludes to a seeming vacillation of the elders as they stood crying (Ramban, Sanhedrin 82a). Or as Ibn Ezra states, they cried out in prayer. Bachya says they cried because the plague had begun, whereas Chizkuni holds that they cried because they had been commanded to take lives. Whatever the reasons, Pinchas perhaps interprets their crying as indecision and takes firm action, as G*d demands. For his action he is rewarded with the B'rithi Shalom, the "My Covenant of Peace." This covenantal reward highlights the distinction in the narrative between Pinchas' action and the elders' inaction. This comes to teach us that true peace doesn't happen without active participation. True peace is not merely the absence of war. Rather, it is a reflection of the fullness of the active consent and participation of all the parties involved to fashion a covenantal embrace of the twin ideals of freedom and justice.

The other aspect of the blessing bestowed on Pinchas was the B'rith Kehunath Olam, the Covenant of Eternal Priesthood. The first kohein mentioned in the Torah was Malki-Tzedek, King of Salem/Shalem/Shalom (Jerusalem), Kohein El Elyon, Servant of the Most High G*d (Gen 14:18).In fact he blesses Avram with bread and wine upon Avram's direct military action in dealing with the four kings who had kidnapped his nephew Lot. Like Pinchas, the blessing is bestowed upon the one who takes direct physical action to rectify a wrong. Bread and wine are identified with Shabbat. Shabbat is the Divine expression of True Peace, linking heaven and earth. You have to actively "make Shabbos" to fully experience it's depth and beauty.

The second kohein mentioned in the Torah is Yitro, identified as Kohein Midyan (Priest of Midian). In fact Yitro himself is also tied to the word Shalom, as his sage advice to Moshe will enable the nation of Israel to "attain its goal of peace (Ex 18:23)." In both cases, of Malki-Tzedek and Yitro, we see a linkage between Kehunah (priesthood) and Shalom (peace). Moreover, the priestly blessing - Birkat Kohanim, of Israel emphasizes the blessing of peace, "shalom" being the final utterance of the three-fold benediction.

The third kohein mentioned in the Torah is the Nation of Israel itself. In Parshat Yitro (Ex19:6) G*d calls Israel a "Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation (Mamlechet Kohanim ve Goy Kadosh)." Israel is thus adjured to actively seek peace and promote holiness throughout the nations of the world. Israel is to be the paradigmatic model of peace and holiness within, from which the nations of the world will learn. We must learn to argue respectfully l'shem Shamayim, for heaven's sake, and not for the pettiness of ego. Tellingly, the number who died in the plague which was stopped by Pinchas was 24,000, the exact number of Rabbi Akiva's students who died in a plague which tradition teaches was a result of disrespectful argumentation.

The mission of the Jewish people is unchanging, as valid today as it was in yesteryear. To wit, its role is to promote peace and holiness throughout Israel and the world by her example. As the nation is the collective of the individuals which apprise it, it behooves each of us to ask ourselves what we as individuals could be doing to more actively promote the ideals of peace and holiness in our lives, in our families and in our communities. May we all merit to earn Pinchas' Covenant of Peace and eternal priesthood through righting the wrongs we see around us, and to be like Aaron, Israel's first High Priest, known as an Ohev Shalom and Rodeph Shalom - a lover of peace and a pursuer of peace.

Shabbat Shalom!

copyright 1999-2007 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

This Torah was written in honor of the memory of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, z"l, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Yaakov Hakohen Melman.

Chabibi (Chabbibii) stands for Chidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua.

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When I was young I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.- Abraham Joshua Heschel
The whole world is a very narrow bridge. And the most important thing is to not be afraid.
-Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
"The greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor." - Aish Kodesh
"As you want G*d to give you a chance, give everyone else a chance to also begin again." - Shlomo Carlebach

About Me

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I played violin with Reb Shlomo and studied under him for over nine years at hundreds of concerts and learnings. Shlomo wanted to give me smicha before he passed. Deepest influences: My father,obm, who was a great scientist and human being, and my grandfather, obm, who was a great Torah scholar who was a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva and taught in Slobodka in Russia before WW1, and was also personal friends with the Chafetz Chaim and came to America in 1914. He knew the Talmud by heart! You could stick a pin in a word and he could tell you what word was on the other side! And my mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l, who was a scholar of classical Hebrew and Tanach and who gave me a love for the language. And her mother, Anna (Sucher) Deutsch, who was born in Horodenka, spoke six languages, and shared her aged wisdom and eternal sweetness with me. I studied at Brandeis, Hebrew College, Pardes as well as seven years at The Metivta/ITJ earning my Advanced Semicha (yoreh yoreh)under Rav Halivni. What's truly amazing is that Shlomo and Rav Halivni each received semicha from Rav Hutner! But my deepest influences of them all are my sweetest sweetest girls who have taught me the most!