To Temper Our Hubris


By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss

Rashi tells us that when Pinchas courageously executed Zimri, the prince of the tribe of Shimon, for engaging in a public act of immorality with Kozbi, the Midyanite Princess, there were those who publically insulted Pinchas.  They maligned him exclaiming, ‘Look at this descendant of Yisro, who was once the High priest of On and fattened calves to idolatry.  It’s no surprise that he would act murderously and kill a prince of Israel.’  Rashi concludes that the Torah testifies to the contrary to rebuff this: Pinchas was a descendant of Aharon, the true man of peace.  


Since in reality we know that Pinchas’ act was purely for the sake of Heaven, as he was rewarded at least remarkable longevity.  As the Sifurno testifies, he lived for hundreds of years until the generation of Yiftach.  According the Targum Yonason ben Uziel he became a malach, an angel, and lived forever, and according to the Pirkei d’Eliezer and Rabbenu Bachya, he became Eliyahu HaNovi.  The common denominator of all of these rewards is that his act was truly and completely valorous.  In light of all these, the Chasam Sofer, Zt”l, Zy”a, poses the following penetrating question:  Why did Hashem allow him to be subjected to such public ridicule?  After all we have a principle, mi’davar tov lo teitzei ha’raah, from something good there does not emanate bad.


The Chasom Sofer answers with a very fundamental dynamic.  Sometimes a great mitzvah, which by its nature has to be performed publically, can be adulterated by the feeling of pride that it generates.  In order to save the perfection of the mitzvah, Hashem subjects the one who performs it to some amount of humiliation in order to remove the pitfall of hubris.  


The Mishchas Shemen testifies that he knows of very righteous people who, with great self-sacrifice and dedication, involve themselves with the rarified mitzvah of pidyon shvuyon – redeeming captives.  For all of their hard work and self-sacrifice, they were subjected to persecution by cynics who claimed that they were pocketing some of the collected monies for themselves.  The Mishchas Shemen explains this unfair response with this Chasam Sofer, saying that since redeeming captives is a very public mitzvah and can allow one to feel very proud of him or herself, Hashem tempers it with some ridicule in order to preserve the purity of the mitzvah.  


I once had the privilege to know a Mr. Eisen who was a disciple of HaRav Elchonon Wasserman of Baranovich, Hashem yinkom domo, Zt”l, Zy”a.  He told me that Rav Elchonon posed the following question.  It says in the posek, “Hatznei’a leches im Hashem Elokecha – walk modestly with Hashem your G-d.”  What, he queries, is the connection between the beginning and the end of the verse?  He explained it as follows.  If a person performs mitzvahs privately, without thought of receiving accolades or applause, notice or attention, that’s proof that he is im Hashem Elokecha, doing it to please Hashem and for no other reason.  So, as the Chasam Sofer says, a person might dedicate a 4-wheel drive ambulance to Hatzoloh and come home and meet derision from his wife that he’s only doing it because he’s full of himself.   When he wonders why Hashem is subjecting him to such a personal letdown, when he really was doing it to save lives, remember this dynamic.  That the momentary unpleasantness he suffered helps to keep away the Yeitzer Hara of an inflated ego and sinful hubris which threatens to detract from the greatness of his mitzvah.  


May we merit to do many wonderful mitzvahs for the right reasons and in that zchus may we be blessed with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.


Please learn and daven for the refuah sheleima of Miriam Liba bas Devorah, b’soch shaar cholei Yisroel.


Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’s articles.

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