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Parashat Pinchas Teaches Us About Intention & Sincerity

Yesterday I listened to two great shiurim on MeirTv.co.il about Parashat Pinchas, and while they addressed different sections of the parasha, it seems that both sections really discuss the same topic: intent.

One shiur by R’ Menachem ben Ya’akov was about whether Pinchas’ action (killing Zimri ben Salu, who was having relations in public with the Midianite woman Cozbi bat Zur, (Zur = Balak)) was really praiseworthy… or more accurately, if it was praiseworthy, why didn’t Moshe do it himself?

– Could it be that Moshe was incapable of chastising the people, or killing his own people?

Clearly that’s not the case, for he both chastised them on repeated occasions, and at the sin of the golden calf, Moshe told those who hadn’t sinned with the golden calf to take their swords and kill the men who had done so (specifically, those who took the initiative and were the driving force behind the sin, some 3000 men).

Rabbi Menachem Ben Ya’acov cited the Midrash (cited also by Rashi) saying that Moshe’s knowledge of the halacha was temporarily forgotten. But what does that mean?

He forgot it insofar as he felt incapable to put it into practice lest the Children of Israel say he only killed Zimri & Cozbi because they insulted him. He was concerned about his intent being perceived as personal, rather than for the sake of heaven, l’shem Shamayim.

(Zimri brought Cozbi to where Moshe was and said, “Is this Midianite woman permitted [to me] or forbidden? And if she is forbidden, who allowed you to marry Zippora [who was also a Midianite woman]?” Zippora had converted and was therefore permitted to Moshe, so if Zimri asked his question in knowledge of Zippora’s status, his goal must not have been to elucidate a point of halacha but only to to insult Moshe.)

The second shiur, by Rav Eyal Vered, discusses another story that comes up in the parasha: the daughters of Zeloph’had and their sincerity.

These 5 women lost their father, and they asked to be given the land that their father would have been given in the Land of Israel. But not just land for any purpose… they specify that the point is to perpetuate their father’s name. It wasn’t clear that they should inherit this land, halachically, hence their bringing the question to Moshe.

(As an aside, it seems strange that G’ should encourage the perpetuation of their father’s name by allowing their claim, given that their father was killed for violating the Shabbat in public, after being warned not to. It seems that their sincerity and unity plus the basic legal validity of the claim takes precedent. (Rashi highlights that their names are cited in changing orders to show they were all weighted equally, and Rav Vered takes this to mean they had the same sincere motives, because otherwise there’d be tension as to the sizes of each daughter’s portion of the land.) )

Rav Vered points out it’s easy to be skeptical of such a claim – there’s a financial interest, yet the people staking the claim are saying their motives are noble.

G’ confirms that their motives are indeed noble, that they are being sincere. When Moshe asked G’ what the halacha was, the response he got began with “Cken bnot Zeloph’had dovrot.” Moshe just asked a halachic question, so why did G’ precede His answer on the state of halacha with praise of how the daughters spoke?

As Rav Vered points out, Ken doesn’t just mean “yes,” or “correct” – it connotes sincerity.

Similarly, these 5 women were of the tribe of Yosef, who himself reproached and corrected the trait of sincerity in his brothers. They came down to Egypt, and he accused them of being spies – people whose fundamental nature is to behave with insincerity, with hypocrisy. (The brothers sold Yosef to Ishmaelites and told their father that a wild beast killed Yosef.) They responded saying, “Ckenim Anachnu” – we’re sincere – we really are brothers coming for food, not spying. And he responds by emphasizing the same word, “Cken,” and they go back and forth a few times about that word.

(BTW, the shiur is really excellent, because Rav Vered supports his point as to what “Ken” means in context with loads of citations and enrichment – it’s very enjoyable.)

To bring this back to the issue of Pinchas, we see that Pinchas behaved with exactly the right intent, again explained and highlighted by Rav Vered. In referring to Pinchas’ act, G’ says , “BeKan’o et Kinati” – “in his zealous avenging of My vengeance/zeal” (Artscroll translation). He wasn’t acting for any personal motivation – which we might have been concerned about since Pinchas’ father had married a Midianite convert, like Moshe did – but for the sanctification of G’ name.

In this, Pinchas essentially acts in direct contrast to Zimri, whose name was also Shelumiel ben Zurishadai (see Midrash Tanchuma).

Shelumiel means, “G’ is my peace,” or “G’ is complete/whole with me,” and Zurishadai means “G’ is my Rock,” which Rav Ben Ishai of Machon Ora explained to me means G’ is the one I lean on for support. Yet we see that Zimri was neither at peace with, nor reliant upon G’. He picked a fight with G’ emissary and behaved in explicit contradiction to halacha – instead of supporting himself with G’ directions, he behaved contrary to them.

Pinchas got two rewards for his act, one of which was G’ s covenant of peace.

Rav Ben Yaakov explains that this is based on the verse in Parashat Re’eh, where G’ commands the Jews to destroy the inhabitants of the “Distant [from G’] City” then promises to grant mercy to those who carry out that commandment. Pinchas just carried out G’s commandment to execute someone liable for the death sentence, and here G’ grants him His covenant of peace – that Pinchas’ soul should not lose its ability to be merciful, that he should not find it a light thing to spill blood. That Pinchas should not become insensitive to others’ suffering.

And Pinchas also behaved in a way that showed he was founding himself on G’ directions, because he first checked what the halacha ought to be with Moshe. (Moshe said that the messenger who reminded him what the halacha was, should also put it into action.)

To summarize, there’s a common thread running through Parashat Pinchas’ events. It’s the importance of intention and of sincerity. Of acting not for our own selfish reasons, but for the sanctification of G’ name.

We see this example in the Amida, where the purpose of fulfilling the Torah is given as underlying the optional personal prayer for health/recovery from illness. May we be capable of always having noble intentions, amen.

Posted in Judaism.


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