Pinchas 5766

June 23, 2009

< 1 min read


Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1 )

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GOOD MORNING! The story is told that Napoleon was walking through the streets of Paris one Tisha B'av. As his entourage passed a synagogue he heard wailing and crying coming from within; he sent an aid to inquire as to what had happened. The aid returned and told Napoleon that the Jews were in mourning over the loss of their Temple. Napoleon was indignant! "Why wasn't I informed? When did this happen? Which Temple?" The aid responded, "They lost their Temple in Jerusalem on this date 1700 years ago." Napoleon stood in silence and then said, "Certainly a people which has mourned the loss of their Temple for so long will survive to see it rebuilt!"

If we know our history and understand it, then we can put our life in perspective. We can understand ourselves, our people, our goals, our values. We will know the direction of our lives, what we want to accomplish with our lives and what we are willing to bear in order to fulfill our destiny. Friedrich Nietzsche put it well, "If you have a 'why' to live for, you can bear with any 'how.' "

We are now entering the Three Weeks, the time between the 17th of Tammuz (Thursday, July 13) and the 9th of Av (starting Wednesday night, August 2nd). This is a period when many tragedies happened to the Jewish people. Why do we mourn the loss of the Temple after so many years? What did and does it mean to us?

The Temple was a central focal point of the Jewish people. Three times a year - Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot - the Jews living in the Land of Israel came to worship and celebrate at the Temple. It offered us the ultimate opportunity to come close to the Almighty, to elevate ourselves spiritually. It represented the purpose of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel - to be a holy people united with the Almighty in our own land ... a Jewish state. That is what we seek to regain and that is why we mourn and remember the loss of what we once had.

What can one read to gain knowledge, get perspective, to understand who the Jewish people are and what we are about? Certainly, reading the Five Books of Moses is the place to start. I recommend the Artscroll Stone Edition. Nineteen Letters by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch will give a tremendous understanding of the Jewish purpose. Nine Questions and Why the Jews? by Praeger and Telushkin address central issues of the Jewish people. And then there is Judaism in a Nutshell: God by Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf for people who are long on curiosity, but short on time. For more history and understanding of the holidays, read Book of Our Heritage by Eliyahu Kitov. All are available from your local Jewish book store, or by calling toll-free 877-758-3242.

In Jewish cosmology, the Three Weeks are considered to be such an inauspicious time period that one is not allowed to get married. From the 1st of Av (July 26th), one is even advised to push off court cases until after the 10th of Av (after August 5th). We refrain from hair-cutting, purchasing or wearing new clothing, listening to music and pleasure trips. It is a time for self-reflection and improvement.

On the 17th of Tamuz, five calamitous events occurred in our history:

  1. Moshe broke the first Tablets of the Ten Commandments when he descended from Mt. Sinai and saw the worshipping of the Golden Calf.
  2. The Daily Sacrificial Offerings ceased in the First Temple due to lack of sheep.
  3. The walls of Jerusalem were breached during the siege of the Second Temple.
  4. Apustumus-the-Wicked burned a Sefer Torah.
  5. An idol was placed in the Sanctuary of the Second Temple.

The 17th of Tamuz is a fast day. The fast begins approximately an hour before sunrise and continuing until about an hour after sunset. The purpose of the fast is to awaken our hearts to repentance through recalling our forefathers' misdeeds which led to tragedies and our repetition of those mistakes. The fasting is a preparation for repentance - to break the body's dominance over a person's spiritual side. One should engage in self-examination and undertake to correct mistakes in his relationship with God, his fellow man and with himself.

It is interesting to note that Saddam Hussein is a student of Jewish history. He named the nuclear reactor (from which he planned to create a bomb to drop on Israel) - you guessed it, Tamuz 17! (Want the source? Two Minutes Over Baghdad by Amos Perlmutter.) I also highly recommend and There are many excellent articles and insights on our website.

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Torah Portion of the Week

In last week's Torah portion, Pinchas acted to stop a public display of immorality. He thus stemmed the plague of retribution which was killing the multitudes. He is rewarded by being made a Cohen - by Divine decree.

The Almighty commands Moshe to attack the Midianites in retribution for the licentious plot the Midianites perpetrated upon the Israelites. A new census is taken of the Jewish people revealing that there are 601,730 men available for army duty. God directs the division of the Land of Israel amongst the tribes. The Levites are tallied. The daughters of Tzelafchad come forward to petition Moshe regarding their right of inheritance. Moshe inquires of the Almighty Who answers in their favor.

Moshe asks the Almighty to appoint a successor and the Almighty directs Moshe to designate Yehoshua (Joshua). The Torah portion concludes with the various offerings - daily, Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh and holidays.

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Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah tells us of the census after the plague, specifying the numbers for each family in each tribe. Regarding one of the families in the tribe of Yissochor, the Torah writes:

"to Yashuv, the family of Yshuvi..." (Numbers 26:24).

What lesson for life can we learn from the name of this family?

The Ohr HaChaim, one of the great classical commentaries on the Torah, commented that the tribe of Yissochor was the tribe devoted to the study of Torah. Therefore, among the families of this tribe there are hints to different concepts pertaining to Torah study. The word yishuv in this verse refers to the quality of reflecting patiently on Torah ideas. One must spend much time on each detail of the Torah until one fathoms a bit of its depth.

Racing through the Torah in order to read it as fast as possible will lead to a person making many mistakes, or one will miss many insights and concepts that one could gain by a more careful study. The trait necessary for this is patience.

The goal is to understand as well as possible. Not only will this trait enable you to concentrate longer on any single idea, but it will also allow you to spend more time reviewing what you have learned. The more you review, the better you will understand and the longer you will remember.

When you have been patient and have gained greater comprehension, you will see the benefits of this trait and this will motivate you to continue having this intellectual patience in your Torah studies.

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