By: Chaya Sora Jungreis-Gertzulin
This week’s parshah carries the name of Pinchas, son of Elazar, grandson of Aaron HaKohein.
Pinchas is known as a kanai, a zealot. A devoted fighter for HaShem’s honor, determined to do the right thing. A man who not only had strong beliefs and values, but acted upon them.
Pinchas witnessed Zimri, a leader of the Tribe of Shimon, engaging in an inappropriate relationship with Cozbi, daughter of the king of Midian, flagrantly defying HaShem and His Torah.
“B’makom she’ein anashim, hishtadel li’hiyos ish, In a place where there are no leaders, strive to be a leader.” (Pirkei Avos 2:6).
Pinchas looked around. No one stood up to Zimri. In fact, it was as if the people were in a state of inertia. Paralyzed in their places. Pinchas’ conscience didn’t allow him to stand idly by. He had to do something. His adrenaline kicked in, and with much courage and bravery, he slew them both.
“B’kanoh es kin’asi”, (Bamidbar 24:11) HaShem tells Moshe that Pinchas “was jealous for My jealousy”. Rashi explains that Pinchas avenged HaShem’s revenge. He displayed the anger that HaShem should have displayed.
HaShem rewarded Pinchas with “bris shalom, a covenant of eternal peace.” Shalom – peace. The ultimate blessing. Without peace, we have nothing. With peace, we have everything. Without peace, we lay in bed fitfully, tossing and turning, unable to find a place for ourselves. The stresses of daily live prevent us from falling asleep. With shalom, with peace, we can fall into a blissful sleep, waking up refreshed, ready to begin a new day.
Modern medicine stresses how important peace of mind is for our physical well-being. Stress can bring on inflammation, high blood pressure, and even affect our cardiovascular health. The Torah tells us that Pinchas was blessed with bris shalom, a peaceful and tranquil life that contributed to his long years.
While Pinchas’ actions were strong and confrontational, being a zealot can be expressed in many ways. To live one’s life as a walking Kiddush HaShem is being a zealot. To be passionate about our adhering to Torah and mitzvos, to be mindful of how we speak to others – and about others – , from the words we choose to the voice we use. To stand up for what is right when we witness a wrong being done.
This Shabbos, our family will iy”h celebrate the Bar Mitzvah of our oldest grandson, Meshulam. Meshulam, who is named after my father, HaRav Meshulam ben HaRav Osher Anshil HaLevi, zt”l.
Over sixty years ago, my father became the rov of Congregation Ohr Torah, in North Woodmere. To be an Orthodox rabbi in North Woodmere at that time, took being a zealot. While tall and strong in demeanor, my father always expressed himself in a soft and kind-hearted manner. When it came to halacha – be it in matters of kashrus, a proper mechitza in the shul, or in a myriad of other issues that inevitably arose – my father was unyielding and determined. But he succeeded because he always tempered his words, conveying the Torah perspective in a kind and relatable manner. In this way, he was able to build Yiddishkeit in what was then a spiritual wasteland, bringing so many closer to Torah. No wonder that he was known to his congregants as a “gentle giant”.
When my father saw that the neighborhood teenagers were heading each morning to the local public schools without davening properly, he came up with a creative way to bring them to minyan. He would personally pick them up, drive them to shul, and daven with them. Abba always brought along a thermos of hot cocoa and cookies, to reward his “minyanaires”, as he would call the boys. That was his way of combining zealousness with kindness. And it went a long way. Today, many of those teenagers are grandparents, who raised their own children and grandchildren in the path of Torah and mitzvos.
Abba exerted much effort convincing local families to give their children a yeshiva education. He would help them with their Hebrew homework, at times a difficult adjustment for the new beginners. But he persevered, because it was his way of ensuring the continuity of Am Yisrael. That too, was zealotry.
Our sages teach that there is a name-neshamah connection. In fact, the middle two letters of the Hebrew word neshamah are shin and mem, spelling sheim – name, for one’s name is the essence of his soul. My mother would often say that Abba was like his name, Meshulam, from shaleim – complete and fulfilled. Meshulam also connotes shalom, peace. When a person is at peace with himself, and when he lives a life of bringing shalom to others, he experiences shleimus, fulfillment.
Pinchas was the grandson of Aaron, who was known as an oheiv sholom, a lover of peace, and a rodeph shalom, a pursuer of peace. Zimri, through his actions, fragmented the Jewish people. In contrast, Pinchas, through his actions, brought an end to the plague, thereby paving a road to peace.
The three weeks are upon us. A time of mourning for the Bais HaMikdash, a catastrophic loss brought upon by sinas chinam, baseless hatred. It is said that to bring Moshiach and complete the third and final Bais HaMikdash, we must fill our world with ahavas chinam, love without pre-conditions.
We know that there are no coincidences in life – even the week on which one celebrates his Bar Mitzvah. My message to you, Meshulam, is to learn from Pinchas. To learn from your Zeide, Meshulam. To always do the right thing. To live your life with strong convictions, but always with ahavas chinam. To combine the traits of zealotry and being an oheiv shalom. This is the greatest nachas that you can give to your parents and grandparents, to your holy ancestors, and to HaShem Himself. By living your life in this manner, you will live up to your name – Meshulam – and like Pinchas, will b’ezras HaShem merit the reward of Bris Shalom, a covenant of peace.
Chaya Sora can be reached at email@example.com
This article was written L’zecher Nishmas / In Memory Of HaRav Meshulem ben HaRav Osher Anshil HaLevi, zt”l and Rebbetzin Esther bas HaRav Avraham HaLevi, zt”l