By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
This week’s parsha provides us with a stark contrast. The parsha begins with the story of Balak’s attempts to entice Bilam to curse the Jewish nation. Without the commentary of Chazal, it would seem to a casual reader of the parsha that Bilam was not an entirely evil person.
By just reading the pesukim, it appears as if Bilam is seeking to follow the command of Hashem and is unwilling to follow Balak’s messengers to curse the Jews if that was not the will of Hashem.
In truth, Bilam was a phony. He mouthed the proper words to Balak, as he sought to convince G-d to permit him to engage in the mission to curse the Jewish people. In his heart, he lusted after the money and prestige that Balak was offering him for the commission of his odious mission.
Bilam was a gifted individual, but he sought public acclaim. He used his talents to enrich himself. He tried to twist his G-d-given abilities to win himself popularity and fame. Though he knew he was acting improperly, he sought to fool G-d, kevayachol, into going along with his plan. His words were those of a great man, but his heart was filled with malice.
As hard as he tried to conspire with Balak, the king of Moav, he was unable to fulfill the malicious desires of the depraved king. When he saw that he would never be able to curse the blessed nation, he devised a nefarious, satanic plan to annihilate those whom he could not curse. And though the pesukim don’t attribute the plan to him, Chazal, with their wisdom, teach us that it was Bilam who guided Balak and the Moavites in creating pernicious moral corruption with which to afflict the holy nation.
At the conclusion of Parshas Balak, we learn that following the episode with Balak and Bilam, the Bnei Yisroel began to sin with the daughters of Moav. A nesi bais av committed a sinful act with a daughter of the leader of Midyan before Moshe and all of the Bnei Yisroel.
The entire nation stood around weeping, at a complete loss. Hashem sent a plague as punishment for the crime and then Pinchos arose from the crowd.
He was the sole individual who was not confounded by the unprecedented outrage. He was the only one who remembered the halacha and knew what had to be done. Even as cynics mocked him and he himself was unsure of the outcome his act would produce, Pinchos ignored the scoffers and sprang forward, plunging a spear into the bodies of Zimri and his partner.
He thus stopped the already devastating plague and brought a swift end to yet another inglorious chapter in our people’s history.
Next week’s parsha, Pinchos, opens with Hashem telling Moshe Rabbeinu that “Pinchos, the son of Elozor, the son of Aharon the Kohein, turned back G-d’s wrath from the people of Israel with his act of kana’us, and He did not destroy the Bnei Yisroel in His anger. Therefore, say [the following]: Hashem is bestowing upon Pinchos his covenant of peace. He and his children who follow him shall be privileged with the covenant of kehunah forever.”
By following the dictates he had been taught by Moshe Rabbeinu and intervening in a machlokes, Pinchos merited the blessing of eternal peace. The man of peace is not necessarily the one who sits back passively and does nothing. The one who sits on the sidelines weeping as evil rears its ugly head and seems to triumph is not promoting peace; he is encouraging evil.
Pinchos is deemed worthy to bear the torch of kehunah and carry on the tradition of Aharon Hakohein, to be an oheiv shalom verodef shalom, because he put his own ambitions aside and rose to the challenge. Pinchos was given the eternal blessing of peace because he made peace possible amongst Klal Yisroel by exterminating evil.
Pinchos halted the plague which had already killed 24,000 Jews because he had the moral courage and clarity to act when others were confounded and immobilized. He wasn’t guided by a desire for fortune, fame or popularity.
He didn’t let popular opinion deter him from slaying those who brazenly defied the Torah authority. He knew that an oheiv shalom verodef shalom sometimes has to act courageously, even if his actions invite misunderstanding and recrimination.
This past week, we witnessed this lesson in dramatic fashion, as dozens of chareidi parents from the Israeli town of Emmanuel refused to cave in to an unprecedented ruling by the Israeli High Court to send their daughters to a school whose ideals run counter to their tradition. The court claimed that the Ashkenazic parents who pulled their daughters from the school had discriminated against their Sephardic counterparts at the institution.
The incredulity of the court’s claim could be seen in the simple fact that of the four dozen parents who were charged with contempt of court, over one quarter of them are Sephardim themselves. But that fact was ignored by the High Court justices, who were assisted in their effort to demonize the Emmanuel parents by a willing secular media, who had a field day reporting about the alleged racial discrimination. The media then went after chareidi officials, including Meir Porush, Uri Maklev and others, for their support of the Emmanuel parents and their outspoken criticism of the High Court.
The secular media in Israel and elsewhere misreported and misrepresented this entire affair as being one of discrimination, when the facts simply don’t support the claim.
But that’s the koach of sheker, which can poison the public mind and warp the thinking of even rational people. The media planted seeds of sheker into the public consciousness, and those seeds sprouted and grew, corrupting even some in our communities, who believed the falsities being fed to them about why several hundred thousand people, led by the gedolei hador, took to the streets to support parents who are willing to endure imprisonment to protect their children’s chinuch, b’derech Yisroel saba.
Twenty-two mothers and 35 fathers were ordered to begin two-week jail terms for discriminating on the basis of race. The High Court refused to recognize that the issue at hand was the level of religious observance, and that an Ashkenazic family that does not keep to the standards is no more welcome than a family from any other ethnic group.
Rav Meir Elmaliach, one of the parents who was imprisoned, made that clear at last week’s massive rally in Yerushalayim. “For three years they have been saying false things,” he said. “I said this in court: Bring me even one girl who was not accepted to our school and I will close it down myself. The judge asked me where I had been up until then. I told him that they did not permit me to speak. Also, 30 percent of the girls in this group are Sephardim.”
We hear cries of “Why can’t we all get along?” and “Shouldn’t we be seeking shalom?” from those who miss the crux of the matter and, unwittingly, have digested the fabrications of the media regarding this regrettable affair.
But shalom doesn’t mean caving in to pressure or compromising on our ideals. And that eternal lesson was taught to us by no less a personage than Pinchos, who knew that the cause of peace is advanced through fidelity to halacha. Shalom is achieved by pursuing shleimus, even if that involves sacrificing sacred cows and jeopardizing a career.
Shalom is rooted in shleimus. When everything is proper, when everything is complete and whole, it is then possible to also have shalom. If you are lacking in shleimus, if everything is not absolutely intact, then you cannot have shalom. Torah is the absolute truth. With it, the world was created, and it serves as the ultimate yardstick in defining our behavior. If we stay true to it, we will be blessed with peace.
Pinchos passed this test and was therefore singled out as being worthy of following in the footsteps of Aharon Hakohein, who exemplified the pursuit of shalom through the service of G-d.
We need more people like Pinchos in order to stop the plague in its tracks. We need people whose loyalty to Torah compels them to arise from the mourners who sit weeping and demonstrate by action what needs to be done.
We all know that most things are not b’shleimus in our world. We are all aware of people who suffer and urgently need someone to rush to their aid. We must have the fortitude to stand up for the truth in the tradition of Pinchos. We must speak up when confronted with injustice.
And that brings us to the case of Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, which we have been covering for the past two years. The judge’s memorandum of sentencing which she submitted on Monday sent shockwaves throughout the entire community. The injustice cries out to the heavens and begs for a remedy. Once again, a Jew has been scapegoated. Once again, facts have been ignored. A libel has been created and given credence by a court.
How do we react?
On Yom Kippur, we wear white clothing because we are betuchim badin. Bitachon is a word which is thrown around lightly these days when speaking and thinking of Sholom Mordechai, but bitachon is not a simple matter. Bitachon in Hakadosh Boruch Hu has the ability to change reality.
Rav Chaim Volozhiner writes in Nefesh Hachaim (3:12) that if one truly believes that “Hashem Hu Elokim” and “Ein Od Milvado,” and one really internalizes that there is no power in this world which is not controlled by Hashem, then there is nothing that can harm him.
We can understand this, perhaps, as Hashem set into motion a variety of sibos through which He exerts his power upon the world; one who recognizes this, and knows that the power of the sibos emanates from Hashem is removed from the control of the sibos and is controlled directly by Hashem, as the posuk states Vehbotei’ach baHashem chessed yesovevnhu.
The Kochvei Ohr, which is printed together with the sefer Ohr Yisroel, explains that the ultimate emunah is to believe in Hashem, even when it defies human understanding. Even if you have figured it out intellectually and it doesn’t add up, the true believer maintains his belief in Hashem.
The purpose of the briah is to see the gadlus of Hashem. Usually, this is brought about through tevah, by perceiving Hashem through the application of the way He set up the world to run, with the sibbah and mesoveiv, through the variety of shlichim and sibbos which carry out the will of Hashem according to the laws of nature that Hashem established in creation.
The true ma’amin who recognizes that all that happens in tevah is an extension of the gadlus haBorei is thus brought to a higher level and is not encumbered by tevah. Hashem will thus perform for him lemaalah miderech hatevah.
In last week’s parsha, we read of the mageifah which plagued Am Yisroel in the midbar. The Bnei Yisroel grumbled against Hashem and Moshe. They complained about the food, the heavenly monn which fell daily. They complained about the water which miraculously flowed from the rock. They complained that they were taken out of slavery in Mitzrayim to die in the desert.
Hashem sent snakes to bite them. Whoever got bitten by a snake died. They came crying to Moshe, saying that they realized that they had sinned for speaking against Hashem and Moshe, and asked for forgiveness. Hashem told Moshe to make a snake and place it on a pole. Whoever was bitten by one of the poisonous snakes and had done teshuvah looked up at Moshe Rabbeinu’s copper snake and lived.
The well-known Mishnah in Maseches Rosh Hashanah (29a) states that it was not the copper snake of Moshe which healed those who had been bitten. “Vechi nochosh meimis oh nochosh mechayeh? Elah b’zeman sheYisroel mistaklim klapei maalah umeshabdim es libom la’Avihem shebashomayim hayu misrapim.”
The simple explanation of the Mishnah is that when the Jews looked towards heaven and placed themselves in the care of Hashem, they were healed. But Rav Chaim Volozhiner (ibid., hagah] explains it differently. He says that when the Jews looked upwards at the snake which Moshe had fashioned and placed on the pole, and they pondered the power of a poisonous snake, they were meshabeid themselves to Hashem and they became healed.
In other words, when they recognized that Hashem is the one who heals, and they had complete faith in His ability to heal them, they became well.
When the jury returned with its verdict of not guilty in Sholom Mordechai’s state trial, we were all elated. This week, when we heard the news regarding the exaggerated sentence handed down at the federal sentencing, we were all devastated. At the same time, as Sholom Mordechai himself has taught us and modeled for us over the last two years, the test of true bitachon is when the going is tough and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. We are mispallel that the fact that thousands of people have demonstrated with complete bitachon that Hashem is the One Who controls everything that transpires in the briah will be enough to eventually bring our brother home.
We must stand together and beg Hashem to please accept the tefillos of Am Yisroel. We say, “Look at the tzedakah we gave, look at the maasim tovim we did, look at the achdus we created in Sholom Mordechai’s zechus, and send him home free.”
One year, after Yom Kippur, the Baal Shem Tov stood outside during Kiddush Levana and watched how all the Yiddelach were saying shalom aleichem to each other. He remarked that only after the Yidden went out on Motzoei Yom Kippur to recite Kiddush Levana and said shalom aleichem to each other, and then held hands and danced a rekidah of tremendous achdus, only then did he feel assured that their tefillos on Yom Kippur were niskabeil.
The Soton went before the Kisei Hakavod and said, “Hakadosh Boruch Hu, Your children are divided; they can’t get along. Let me do my thing with them.” Hakadosh Boruch Hu responded, “No, it’s not true. Test them and you will see.”
So the Soton scouted around for a Yid to pick on. He stayed far away from any large city and landed on a small town which is not even a dot on the map. He said, “I will pluck a Yid, a Lubavitcher chossid from Postville. I will make up a libel about him. I will lock him up for life and no one will care. I will show that there is no achdus, I will show that they are like the chasidah and only care about those in their own dalet amos who look like them. I will go to the field grounds and have a field day.”
Boruch Hashem, we were omeid benisayon and proved him wrong.
Sholom Mordechai will be locked up for longer than we had hoped. But in the end, the truth will prevail. Six former attorneys general of the United States and eminent law professors wrote to the judge sharply criticizing the U.S. Attorney for urging the court to impose a life sentence, calling the action “outrageous” and “absurd.” So radical and extreme a punishment would violate the fundamental principles of American justice, the letter said.
Further evidence of prosecutorial overkill came to the fore at the sentencing hearings in April. Striking disclosures lifted the veil on a government scheme to run Agriprocessors into the ground after it filed for bankruptcy.
Coming from three potential buyers, the disclosures knocked out a key pillar of the government’s claim that Sholom Mordechai was guilty of defrauding a lender bank of $26 million – the amount of loss the bank incurred due to the bankruptcy of Agriprocessors which was, in fact, caused by the government.
The buyers showed who was really responsible for the massive loss of money. They told of their personal encounters with the Assistant Iowa Attorney General in connection with their efforts to purchase Agriprocessors post-bankruptcy, while it was still a going concern.
In fact, in the contract of sale and ancillary documents, drawn up by the government, it clearly indicates that the purchaser, under the penalty of perjury, may not employ or enter into consulting agreements with any immediate members of the Rubashkin family or their spouses.
Sworn affidavits by other interested purchasers were submitted to Judge Linda Reade after the hearing, attesting to identical claims of intimidation. Their offers ranged from $40 million to $22 million.
Though in her sentencing memorandum the judge chose to ignore all that, we have faith that the “$26 million fraud” used by the Iowa prosecutors to ramp up the recommended prison sentence will be exposed for what it is, a loss caused by government action.
A neutral judicial review of this case will blow the lid off the legal shenanigans responsible for the destruction of Agriprocessors and the ongoing scapegoating of Sholom Mordechai.
We need Yidden like Pinchos to rise to the fore and help defray the costs of the legal process which will have to be mounted to save this good Jew from the future that Judge Reade envisions for him. We are confident that Hashem will reward these Yidden and Sholom Mordechai with “brisi shalom,” the covenant of peace and sheleimus.