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pinchas 2012


People look around, and ask out loud or to themselves – who will become the great leaders of the Jewish people of the next generation? Who will guide and lead the community? Some people look towards those who are sharp tongue or from prominent families. Others look towards those with high I.Q., expecting that from there will come greatness. However, this is rarely the case. As a matter of fact, if we look at the leaders of today as well as of the past we cannot stop and notice that these factors were not what “makes it or breaks it”. The leaders of today, many of them, came from ordinary or even broken homes, poverty, not the “top of the class”, etc. So, what happened? The Midrash defines the sole factor of the true leaders of the future.

G-d said to Moshe: Yehoshua served you a lot and attributed to you great honor. He would get up early and go to sleep late in your house of gathering to set up the benches, to spread the cloths .. he should take his reward ..(Midrash Raba 21,14). This is odd. A great man like Yehoshua, who was extremely studious, never leaving the study hall and putting in all the hours to watch his teacher Moshe and learn from him the ways of Torah and its laws – this was not what accredited to him leadership. But, mopping the floors after class, putting up the benches and folding the table clothes – that’s what did it ? That’s what made him big?   All of the hours he put into the learning did not stand for his credit – just being the Gabbai of Moshe is what did it?

R’ Zeev Getzel shlita, in his sefer Ashira, offers us a new light on the matter. If, for instance, one were to pass by a store at 2 a.m., and notices through the shop window, someone cleaning up and putting things where they belong. One can figure that the fellow inside is not a regular worker. A regular worker does not work at 2 a.m. To set up the shop at this late hour is none other than the owner of the store or someone who loves the owner of the store, and the work itself.

Yehoshua was not just a janitor, heaven forbid. He did not just set up the tables. He would get up early and go to sleep late setting up the place to make sure that people would love coming to learn in the study hall as much as he did. To him, it was personal. And this is a totally different level of learning Torah. “One does not learn Torah with perfection unless he loves G-d with all his heart, with all his soul, and with every part of his being.” (Midrash Tanchuma Noach )   Yehoshua’s dedication to the study hall, to his love for Torah, was eminent through his making sure that everyone was comfortable and enjoying Torah as much as he did. This is why he became the leader. Not the amount of hours. Not anything else. Rather, it was his dedication to the ideal and value.

The leaders of the people in the future, the true leaders, are those who are dedicated to the ideals and values that they are steadfast in.


G-d asks us: “Who preceded Me that I must pay him?” – Who praised Me before I gave him a soul? Who circumcised his son before I gave him a son?  Who put a mezuzah on his door before I gave him a house? Who built a sukkah before I gave him a place to build one? Who made Me a lulav before I gave him the money to buy one? Who attached tzitzit to his clothes before I gave him clothes to wear?” (VaYikra Rabba 27)

This Midrash seems to suggest that every mitzvah we do is perceived by G-d as merely a necessary and expected expression of appreciation for all the goodness He has bestowed on us. If so, is there any room for doing mitzvot simply out of a desire to serve our beloved Master? Moreover, when we return our souls to G-d after our lifelong journey, how can we hope to be rewarded for living according to the Torah? We shall see that our Parashah provides an answer to these questions.  But first, a little background…

Another Midrash makes this comment on Pinchas’ zealousness in punishing the two brazen sinners, Zimri and Cazbi:  בדין הוא שיטול שכרו  – Pinchas deserved his reward – the “Covenant of Peace” (Midrash Rabbah 21). This meant that Pinchas merited joining the rest of his family in becoming a Kohen. According to Targum Yonatan, this meant that G-d made Pinchas immortal, and will give him the privilege of announcing the Final Redemption and the coming of Mashiach. But how can we understand this concept of rightful reward in light of the previous Midrash, which suggests that no reward is due us for performing mitzvot, which are our duty and obligation to G-d?

There is a well-known saying from Kotzk which can give us a handle on this paradox: “A person is not measured by how many mitzvot he has done, but rather, by how much of his heart he put into his mitzvot – even just one.”

There are relatively few Torah-mandated mitzvot (mitzvot d’oraita) that we encounter on a daily basis. In fact, Rav Wolbe, zt”l, reckoned that there are only nine (out of 248) such positive Commandments: * Reciting Shema * Wearing tzitzit *Putting on tefillin *Praying *Learning Torah *Making a blessing after eating bread  *Giving charity  *Respecting and standing up for elders and parents  *Resting on Shabbat.   How well we serve G-d is more or less determined by this small group of mitzvot. The key to observing these mitzot well, however, is qualitative, depending upon how much thought we put into them. (Devoting thought is more easily said than done, since proper concentration is difficult when mitzvot are encountered frequently.)

Rabbi Yehudah Tzadkah zt”l writes that if a person does a mitzvah out of sincere ahavat HaShem (love of G-d) and not only out of yirat shamayim (fear of G-d), he can legitimately ask G-d for reward. This is because a mitzvah done with ahavat HaShem goes beyond what we are commanded. Doing a mitzvah out of love of G-d expresses one’s inner desire to fulfill G-d’s Will. This is also true when one does something with mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice). Ultimately, the quality of and dedication to the mitzvah justify G-d’s rewarding us.

Pinchas is an excellent example of going beyond what one is commanded to do – הלכה ואין מורין כן.  He acted out of the pain he felt in witnessing desecration of G-d’s Name and great disrespect for Moshe. In punishing Zimri and Cazbi, he put his life on the line, and therefore merited immortality.

We can apply this concept of improving the quality of our actions to many aspects of life as well: family, relationships, work – to name just a few. This means putting the emphasis on quality over quantity, and putting our thoughts into what we do. The fact is that the daily schedules of a wide spectrum of people, are very similar. But those who make an effort  to ensure quality in each and every one of their activities and engagements generally succeed in life much, much more than those who do not.



The Midrash (Rabah 21: 2) says that Moshe asked G-d to appoint a leader to take his place after death. “Master of the World, the opinions of each and every one of them and the differences between them are known before You. I beg of You…  that you appoint a leader … who can bear the weight of each one of their opinions.” Thus, the Torah says יפקוד אלקים אלקי הרוחות  and not הרוח . May G-d of the spirits appoint…, and not G-d of the spirit appoint”.

And the Midrash adds what is mentioned in the Talmud (Berachot 58): upon seeing   600,000  people in one place, one is to make the blessing ברוך אתה ה’ אלקינו מלך העולם חכם הרזים   Blessed are you G-d … the Wise One of the Secrets. The Midrash explains – כשם שאין פרצופהים דומים זה לזה כך אין דעתן שוין זה לזה  – Just as human faces are not similar to one another, so too are their opinions dissimilar. This blessing is utterly unique. Many blessings attest to G-d’s greatness, but this is the only blessing where we refer to G-d as “Wise One.” What makes the differences in faces and opinions of humanity so special?

The answer is amazing. Even more amazing, however, is how frequently it is forgotten. Imagine walking into a room where there are fifty people. The first face you see has a striking resemblance to someone you know very well: you! And as your eyes scan the people there to see whom you can tell that you’ve found your lookalike, you notice that everyone has the same face as you. You learn soon after that they all have the same voice, opinions and fingerprints as you. Only their names and background separate your identity from theirs. Now, you ask yourself: Could a world where everyone is the same be better? Of course, the universal answer is that everyone wants to feel special. As our rabbis tell us:לעולם יאמר אדם בשבילי נברא העולם  A person should always say: for me alone, it was worthwhile for G-d to create the world. And the uniqueness in each of us constantly reminds us of this heavy responsibility.

Rabbeinu Bachye in Chovot Halevovot writes that the ability to think is G-d’s greatest goodness to us. Today’s researchers claim that the human mind can absorb 11 million pieces of information at any given moment. We can be conscious of only a tiny fraction of this. Taking a deeper look, we can recognize that G-d could have created us as beings without consciousness, unable to think differently. Realizing G-d’s wisdom in making us individuals, perceiving the same things from different angles can help us appreciate these differences. This is also the focus of the first blessing of the second part of Shemoneh Esreh . And this is the beauty of a Minyan: each person says the same words, concurrently giving them his own unique meaning.

This is all so ironic because when we encounter differences of opinion it makes us annoyed or edgy.  It bothers us that “the other person does not think like me”. It does not bother us when we do not think like the other person.  Ironic, because these differences are testimony to G-d’s being the Wise One.

I once came across a wise comment on the quote mentioned above.   – Just as human faces are different from one another, so, too, their opinions are different from one other : Why is the comparison between faces and opinions?   The answer is amusing. Just as it does not bother you when someone else has a different face, it should not bother you  when he has a different opinion!

This is, in essence, what Moshe asked of G-d – a leader able to appreciate differences of opinions and perspectives. If only we could appreciate the differences in other people, we would be following in G-d’s ways. And then, we may be classified “Wise” as well!

About the author, Yosef

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