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The Systems of the Jewish Year

The Focus Factor (Parshas Pinchas)

By Rabbi Sender Haber

All of Israel stood by without acting as Zimri sinned with Kazbi. Only Pinchas had the presence of mind to take action and kill them. On the surface it was an act of violence, but ultimately it was a step toward peace and, for Pinchas, a moment that qualified him to become a Kohein and eventually the Kohein Gadol.

It is important to understand that Pinchas was not just a zealot with an uncontrollable temper. The Talmud tells us that he consulted with Moshe and Aharon before he acted. He was prepared to leave things in the hands of the elders. He acted as he did only because he was given the “Go-ahead”. Pinchas had no previous history of violence and, as a point of fact, many years later, when he was approached by 400,000 warriors and asked to lead the battle against the tribes of Reuvein and Gad he didn’t jump to wage war. He spoke with the tribes and came to an understanding.

Pinchas knew that in every situation a person needs to focus on the will of Hashem and act accordingly. Pinchas’s bond with Hashem was not because he shishkebabed people; his bond was formed because he was able to maintain focus and carry out Hashem’s will.

Rav Shimon Schwab explains that this is the role of a Kohein. He needs to be entirely devoted to G-d. Non-kohanim and even regular Kohanim have the luxury of a few mishegasim and distractions. The Kohein Gadol in the Holy of Holies needs to be totally focused on G-d.

When Pinchas showed that he was driven by Hashem’s desire to the exclusion of everything else he merited to become a Kohein. He achieved an unbreakable connection with Hashem and a covenant that would last forever.

It is interesting that the Shulchan Aruch does not quote the laws that motivated Pinchas to act. When Pinchas killed Kazbi he was backed by halacha, yet it is not the type of halacha that we can emulate easily and wantonly. We cannot go around killing people who are evil, but we can emulate Pinchas in other ways.

The name of the Midianite woman who Pinchas killed was Kazbi. The Baal Shem Tov point out that Kazbi is actually the Hebrew word for falsehood. Like Pinchas, we need to kill the falsehood in our lives by taking time to identify and focus on what is important. If we can do that, we will remain attached to Hashem forever. Pinchas did it and achieved a relationship with HaShem that lasted far beyond his actions.

We live in a world full of Falsehood, Mishegasim, Shtusim, and Narishkeit. The only way for us to survive is by identifying G-d’s desire and making it our own. By doing so for even a moment we can, like Pinchas, form an everlasting and priceless bond with Hashem.

The Talmud tells us that this world is like a wedding. Sometimes we go to a wedding and there are so many people running the show. There are parents, musicians, photographers, party planners, and caterers who are making themselves heard and telling people what to do.

We need to recognize that the centerpieces of the wedding are the bride and the groom and that we were gathered, not for the music or the food or the flowers, but to celebrate the eternal bonding of two special neshamos.

This week is the first of a set of three Haftaros foreshadowing the impending destruction that we will mourn on Tisha B’av. We read from the beginning of the book of Yirmiyahu how Hashem tells Yirmiyahu to warn the Jews that times will rough. They will be punished for straying from the path set by the Torah.  At the same time Yirmiyahu is told to remind the Jewish people that all is not lost.  G-d will never leave them: “I remember the kindness and closeness of your youth, the love from the days when we were bride and groom. I remember how you followed me into to the desert, a land where there was no vegetation or source of life.”

As terribly as we behave and as firmly as Hashem punishes us, we will never lose the bond, the connection, and the covenant that we formed in our early days.

It is particularly inspiring to note that when G-d describes our faithful leap into the wilderness he speaks in the singular. Every one of us has the ability to form a lasting bond with Hashem. Even if we show just one moment of sacrifice, Hashem will remember that moment and maintain His personal bond and covenant with us forever.

(Based in part on a talk by Rabbi Nota Koslowitz, ZTL, of Lakewood, NJ)

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