By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
This week’s parsha describes changes taking place in Klal Yisroel, with the leadership of Moshe Rabbeinu passing to Yehoshua, the end of the period of the generation that had left Mitzrayim, and the ascendency of the generation that was to inherit Eretz Yisroel. This is the reason, the Sefas Emes says, for the counting of the Bnei Yisroel in Parshas Pinchos.
The passing of Moshe Rabbeinu and the installation of Yehoshua to replace him as leader of Klal Yisroel was a turning point in our history. The tekufah of Torah Shebiksav ended and was replaced by the reign of Torah Shebaal Peh. Moshe received the Torah from Hashem Himself, but Yehoshua received it from Moshe.
With this we can understand the Gemara (Bava Basra 75a) which recounts that the elders of that generation were upset when the mantle was placed upon Yehoshua. They said, “Pnei Moshe kipnei hachamah, Moshe’s face was like the sun, pnei Yehoshua kipnei levanah, but Yehoshua’s is like the moon. Oy le’oso bushah, oy lah le’oso klimah. What a shame. What a disgrace.”
Just as the moon is but a reflection of the sun, the essence of light, mirroring the illumination it receives, Torah Shebaal Peh exists only through the holy words of Torah Shebiksav. The people had a hard time with this progression and expressed their longing for the original light and the essence of Torah itself, not its reflection, as great and as powerful as it was.
Ever since then, we have been experiencing a steadily diminishing essential light and forcing ourselves to become acclimated to the new and darker reality.
That was not the only change that took place, affecting our people until today. This week, on Shivah Assar B’Tammuz, we commemorated the beginning of the process that led to the loss of the Shechinah’s earthly abode, a place of extraordinary nissim, where we brought korbanos to cleanse and purify ourselves. With the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, we lost the center of kedushah in our world. From that time onward we have had to rely on less substantial replacements.
Subsequent to the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, when a Jew sins, he must find his way to Hakadosh Boruch Hu without the benefit of the mizbei’ach and a korban to assist him. Ever since the time of the churban, Klal Yisroel has had to adapt to a world of hester, darkness. Due to our sins, Hakadosh Boruch Hu has separated Himself from us.
With this in mind, as we study this week’s parsha, we can appreciate the significance of the Torah’s declaration that as a reward for his act of single-minded kanna’us which succeeded in removing Hashem’s wrath, Pinchos earned for himself the bris of shalom and the role of kehunah.
This is because the role of removing Hashem’s wrath from Am Yisroel is the specific mission of the kohanim. By offering korbanos in the Bais Hamikdosh, they created harmony in the cosmos and shleimus in the world. Sin creates a division between the Jewish people and Hashem, while teshuvah and korbanos remove the division and bring the Creator and His nation back together.
The silence of the Bnei Yisroel in the face of Zimri’s horrible deed spawned a plague. Twenty-four thousand had died because no one protested Zimri’s act. Finally, Pinchos, acting in accordance with a halacha v’ein morin kein, jeopardized his own future and life to stop the plague. By removing its cause, he reconnected the Bnei Yisroel with their Creator. The reward and result of his action was to be granted kehunah, because he had demonstrated that he was worthy of the sacred calling of those who repair the relationship between Hashem and His people.
Perhaps this is the depth of the message inherent in laining this parsha each year at the onset of the Three Weeks. Although we no longer have the Bais Hamikdosh and lack the avodas kohein gadol, we can learn from the example set by Pinchos.
Each one of us has the ability to study the image of that lone individual who stepped forth from the crowd and acted to remove the charon af that has kept us in golus since the churban. Each individual Yid has the ability to act selflessly to reconnect his brothers with Hashem and end the darkness.
The era we live in is particularly dark. We have no shemesh, and sometimes it appears like we have no levanah either. People despair because we are lacking illumination. But instead of complaining, we should keep our hearts awake, sensitive and attuned to opportunities to step forward to achieve great things, helping others beruchniyus or begashmiyus.
There are so many opportunities to create kiddush Hashem in a world full of the opposite. We can help build Torah and support lomdei Torah, who bring light to the world. We can help the poor and the abused, and work to achieve justice, as the posuk states, “Tzion bemishpot tipodeh.” At a time when too many of our brethren create bad publicity, we can work to conduct ourselves in a way that will cause others to remark how wonderful the ways of those who study and observe Torah are. “Mah no’eh ma’asov.”
We can demonstrate the folly of those who mock observance and we can generate genuine ahavas Yisroel and ahavas Torah.
Rav Michoel Ber Weissmandl, the famed Nitra rosh yeshiva and Holocaust hero, lost his wife and five children to the Nazis. After the war, he moved to America, remarried, and had five children. The bris of the fifth child born to him in America was understandably very emotional for him. As he spoke at that occasion, he quoted from the last piyut that is recited on Shabbos Parshas Parah: “Vechol asher yeish bema’alah yeish bematah… bonim mul bonim… kedoshim mul kedoshim… makdishim mul makdishim… ukedushah lekadosh meshalshilim.”
What do those words mean?
Rav Weissmandl cried out with great emotion, “I had five children who were mekadeish Hashem. They are now in ma’alah. They died as kedoshim, who were mekadeish Hashem. I pray that just as those bonim died as kedoshim, mekadshei Hashem, the fifth child, whom I have now merited to perform a bris on, along with his siblings who are with us lematah, will be mul those who are lemaalah.”
He pleaded that he should merit for the rach hanimol, along with his siblings, to be kedoshim, mekadshei Hashem with their lives, as the previous five were mekadeish Hashem with their deaths.
Following the recital of the aforementioned paragraph, the congregation and chazzan call out, “Nekadeish es shimchah ba’olam kesheim shemakdishim osoh bishmei marom. We will sanctify the name of Hashem in our world the same way those who are now in Heaven sanctified it.”
Rav Weissmandl told his listeners, “Let us all cry out together, ‘Nekadeish es shimchah ba’olam kesheim shemakdishim osoh bishmei marom.’ Let us all resolve to be mekadshei Hashem, to live lives of kiddush Hashem.”
That baby, who was named Menachem Meir, is today the rov of the Nitra kehillah in Monsey. He is a well-known and admired rov who is indeed mekadeish Hashem in all he does. I heard the story from him.
Not only Holocaust survivors, whose every mitzvah following that awful period was a kiddush Hashem, and not only their children have the ability and obligation to be mekadeish sheim Shomayim, but so do all of us as well.
One of the most enduring drashos of modern Jewish history was delivered by one of the clearest thinkers of the past century. Rav Elchonon Wasserman’s mission in life was to be a melamed, to set young bochurim on the path of understanding, appreciating and growing in learning, as they began their journey through the olam hayeshivos gedolos. His clarity of mind and insightful analysis still light the way for new generations of lomdim.
On Sunday afternoon, 11 Tammuz, July 6th, seventy-two years ago this month, Rav Elchonon was led to his death together with other gedolei Torah and ehrliche Yidden at Kovno’s infamous 9th Fort. Rav Elchonon addressed those with him whom the Lithuanian Nazis had arrested, sharing poignant words which echo through time.
“It appears that in Shomayim,” he said, “they consider us tzadikim, because our bodies have been chosen to atone for Klal Yisroel. Therefore, we must immediately do teshuvah. We don’t have much time, the Ninth Fort is nearby. We will be better korbanos if we do a proper teshuvah, and that way we will be able to save the lives of our American brothers and sisters.
“Let us not have any machsheves pigul, forbidden thoughts that could render an offering unfit. We will soon fulfill the greatest mitzvah of all. Yerushalayim was destroyed through fire, and in fire she will be rebuilt. The fire that consumes our bodies will one day rebuild the Jewish people.”
Rav Elchonon – described by an eyewitness as bearing the countenance of a “malach Elokim – and the rest of the Jews were led to the Ninth Fort, where they were slaughtered in a hail of bullets. Their mesirus nefesh, their kiddush sheim Shomayim, and their becoming korbanos, saved multitudes of other Jews from death. Like Pinchos of old, Rav Elchonon and the victims of the Kovno ghetto seized the moment to remove Hashem’s anger.
Rav Shimshon Pincus, the rov of Ofakim, once hurried into his home and lit a cigarette. He took a few puffs and then dropped the cigarette on the living room carpet, stubbing it out with the heel of his shoe.
His family looked on in surprise. Rav Pincus didn’t smoke, and why would he put out a cigarette in the carpet? The whole thing was strange, but knowing their father, they waited for the explanation they were sure would follow.
Sure enough, as they looked on incredulously, Rav Pincus related that in shul, he noticed how a young man, immersed in learning, finished his cigarette and dropped it onto the floor of the bais medrash. Rav Pincus considered this an act of tremendous chutzpah, chillul Hashem, and bizayon hakedushah. He worried about the effects of that action.
“As a rov,” he told his family, “I have a responsibility to remove the kitrug that was caused upon this Jew and our town, so I hurried home to do the same thing, as if to show that even in my own living room, I would do this, minimizing to a certain degree the avla perpetrated by this Jew with his cigarette.”
By doing so, Rav Pincus set an example of what it means to live with awareness of one’s obligation to remove Divine wrath.
As young children, we all learned the poignant Chazal of how Yaakov Avinu elected to bury his wife Rochel alone on the side of the road, rather than in Chevron, alongside the other avos and imahos. His reasoning was that when her broken and devastated children would be exiled by Nevuzaradun, they would pass their mother’s kever. Passing the resting place of Mama Rochel, they would perhaps be uplifted. They would daven and cry out before her tomb, knowing that she would intercede on their behalf. Indeed, she would, as the posuk states, “Rochel mevakah al boneha.”
Yaakov Avinu buried Rochel there, instead of with him and her sister Leah, as well as with the other three couples in the Me’oras Hamachpeilah, so that she would be in position to help her children much later. This was a message that surely wasn’t lost on those exiles, a call to each one of them to step forward and demonstrate self-sacrifice for the good of Klal Yisroel.
Rochel’s descendant, Esther Hamalkah, similarly sacrificed for her people. She forfeited her own olam hazeh, marrying a rashah to save her people. She was even prepared to die on their behalf, as she uttered, “Ka’asher ovadeti ovadeti.” As she entered the room of the hateful king, she whispered, “It’s not about me.”
Today, we need to seize these examples, finding ways to stand tall. We cannot be content when our brothers and sisters are suffering. We have to feel their pain and do something to alleviate it.
As we experience these difficult periods, marking the three weeks of churban at a juncture when we feel the churban more acutely than we have in quite some time, the words of Rav Weismmandl must resonate in our minds, driving us to act and prompting us to step forward and do what is right, even when it is uncomfortable. Remembering all the tragedies that befell our people during these weeks reminds us of what we must do. Reading this week’s parsha empowers us, for it lays out our obligation, directing us with regard to what we must do if we want to remove Hashem’s wrath and achieve redemption.
Nekadeish es shimchah ba’olam kesheim shemakdishim osoh bishmei marom.
Let us all resolve to do so, thus bringing closer the day when these weeks of mourning will become days of celebration, zeh mul zeh, bevias Moshiach Tzidkeinu bimeheirah beyomeinu.