Pinchas & The Three Weeks - The Jewish Voice
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Pinchas & The Three Weeks

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The period between the Fast of the 17th of Tamuz and Tishah B’Av is known in halachah as “Bein Ha’meitzarim” / “Between the Troubles.” During this period, we mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples.

However, writes R’ Eliezer Ze’ev Rosenbaum z”l hy”d (the Nadvorner- Kretchnif Rebbe in Sighet; killed in the Holocaust), chassidic works teach that there is also a reason for optimism during this period. We read in Eichah (1:3), “All rodfehah / her pursuers hi’seeguhah / overtook her bein ha’meitzarim.” The word “rodfehah” / “her pursuers” can be read “rodfei-Kah” / “Those who pursue G-d.” (The “K” in “Kah” is inserted to avoid pronouncing G-d’s Name, but it is not part of the word.)

Those who pursue G-d during the period can “overtake” him. Also, “hi’seeguhah” can mean “grasped it,” in the sense of grasping a deep concept. Those who pursue G-d during this period can grasp deep spiritual levels.

How can this be? How can a period of such sorrow be an opportunity for such joyful attainments? R’ Rosenbaum explains with two parables.

First, when is it easier for the common man to approach a king – when he is in his palace or when he is traveling? Presumably, when he is traveling. Similarly, it is easier for us to approach G-d when He is in exile from His home, the Temple, so-to-speak.

Also, imagine a father who, G-d forbid, lost many of his children. Whenever the father recalls that tragedy, he will feel closer to his surviving offspring. Similarly, when G-d mourns, so-to-speak, over the Destruction, He brings Himself closer to us. (Raza De’Uvda p.144)

“Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aharon the Kohen, turned back My wrath from upon Bnei Yisrael when he zealously avenged Me among them, so I did not consume Bnei Yisrael in My vengeance.” (25:11)

Chazal comment: “Justice requires that Pinchas receive his reward.”

What does this mean? asks R’ Yitzchak Yaakov Reines z”l (rosh yeshiva in Lida, Poland and founder of Mizrachi). Might we think that Pinchas should not be rewarded? Reward and punishment is one of the fundamental beliefs of our faith!

He explains: We read in Yirmiyah (50:17), “Yisrael is like scattered lamb.” The Midrash Rabbah asks, “In what way is Yisrael like a lamb?” The sage Chizkiyah answers in the Midrash, “Just as a lamb that is hit on one limb hurts all over, so when one limb of Yisrael (i.e., one person) is hurting, all of Yisrael is in pain.”

The Midrash continues that the sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai illustrated the importance of Jewish unity in another way. Imagine several people sitting on a rowboat. Suddenly, one pulls a drill out of his pocket and begins boring a hole under his seat. The other passengers will surely yell at him, “What are you doing?” Can he rightfully answer, “It’s none of your business; I’m only drilling under my seat”? Of course he cannot.

R’ Reines writes: Both sages, Chizkiyah and Rabbi Shimon, acknowledge the importance of unity. What then is the difference between their two analogies? Chizkiyah’s illustration refers to unity based on emotional attachment. If one Jew is hurting, all should be in pain. In contrast, Rabbi Shimon’s analogy is based on reason, on the recognition that one Jew’s improper act can harm all Jews. (For example, writes R’ Reines, world opinion often condemns all Jews for one Jew’s act.) We are all “sailing in the same boat.” If the boat sinks, G-d forbid, we will all drown.

Pinchas’ killing of Zimri was an emotional act. We know this because it is the source of the halachah that, for certain sins, a zealot may take the law into his own hands and execute the offender. The law is that if the “zealot” comes to bet din / court and asks whether he should take the law into his own hands, he is told, No! There is no doubt that one who commits a Zimri-like act harms the Jewish people whether his act is judged rationally or emotionally.

Nevertheless, the law that “A zealot may strike him down” applies only when the zealot feels the collective pain of the Jewish People, not when he has concluded rationally that the Jewish People may be harmed by the sinner’s act. On the other hand, when a court-appointed agent administers lashes or executes a murderer, he may not act emotionally; he must act rationally.

Since Pinchas acted emotionally, emotion clearly requires that he be rewarded. However, the Midrash says, justice, i.e., reason, also requires that he be rewarded [for in the final analysis, he saved Bnei Yisrael].  (Sefer Ha’arachim: Gmul Va’onesh)


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