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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Be A Pinchas!

By Rabbi Yaacov Haber

I have some very dangerous and risky advice that I give my children and anyone else willing to listen. Be a Pinchas! Don’t settle for any injustice and don’t get used to seeing wrong.

I was marveling at the story of the great Talmudic sage, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi. The Talmud (Ketubot 77) reports that Rabbi Yehoshua was given an advance tour of his portion in Gan Eden. The tour guide was Eliyahu HaNavi. They entered Gan Eden and Eliyahu announced to those assembled in Paradise: “Make room for the son of Levi! Make room for the son of Levi!”

As they entered Gan Eden they found the famous student of Rabbi Akiva and the author of the Zohar, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.  Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai immediately challenged Rabbi Yehoshua; “Are you the famous son of Levi that is so well-known for your righteousness? Tell me, did a rainbow ever appear during your lifetime? If it did then you are not the son of Levi that you could have been!”

The sight of a rainbow means that there is not even one righteous person in the generation and if not for G-d’s promise at the time of Noach the entire world would be destroyed.  Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai pointed out to Rabbi Yehoshua, if there was a rainbow during his lifetime then he obviously was not completely righteous!

The message is astounding. Even if the world is so corrupt that it is worthy of destruction it takes only one man to hold that world up! Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai informed Rabbi Yehoshua that he could have been that man; and if he wasn’t then he didn’t live up to the reputation of the ‘son of Levi’.

Pinchas was exactly that man. His intolerance of evil held up the world.

There is no perfection anywhere in this world and in the most pristine environments imperfections stand out even more. In some of the most beautifully developed areas of Judaism there are institutions that need to be fixed and attitudes and ideals that are starkly not in accordance with the Torah. Amongst some of the holiest people and in some of the holiest places we can find some jarring attitudes and behavior.

How should we react? Examine everything that happens through the lens of Torah. Underline what is great and beautiful and take note of what is wrong. Don’t kill anyone; don’t criticize; don’t hold it against them, and don’t slander. Just do something! Improve the situation. Stand up for what is right.

Pinchas lived during a miraculous and glorious time for the Jewish people. The Torah was new; everyone had heard G-d’s voice and had seen His handiwork. Everything was perfect. Yet, somehow some very negative behavior crept into Jewish culture and somehow that behavior became acceptable. An outrageous situation developed but there was no outrage!  No one said a word, not Moshe, not Aharon, not Yehoshua. There was only one man, Pinchas that was jarred and shaken by the wrong that was being done. He didn’t ask any questions, nor did he question his own sense of right and wrong. He picked himself up and acted. He made a change, he made a difference, and G-d blessed him and his children for all generations.

The lesson of Pinchas is to be able to draw energy from deep within ourselves to do what is right at that moment, no matter what everyone around us - or everyone in the world -thinks. If you see something wrong, never accept it, never ignore it, and never worry about your popularity. Say a prayer to G-d and fix it.

It is really inspiring that one person can, from within his or her individuality, change all of history. In fact, it seems that all of history has turned on the pivots of individuals. It only takes an individual to make things better.

Because Pinchas took the difficult and unpopular route G-d blessed him with Shalom. He was surrounded with peace and he had inner peace.

May G-d give us Shalom, may He give us the strength to always pursue Shalom, and may we have Shalom in Israel and throughout the world.

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