The Shmuz on Parshas Balak

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Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon HaKohain appeased my wrath against Bnai Yisroel by taking my revenge in their midst, and so I did not have to destroy them with my vengeance. “- Bamidbar 25:11

The plot to destroy the Hebrews

The Parasha Balak ends with events of the sins of the daughters of Moav. The people of Moav saw the people of Israel coming and they were filled with terror. They had heard of the annihilation of Sichon and knew that they were going to be the next to see the Klas Yisroel, face to face. Due to the desperation, Balak, the king of Moav, contracted Bilaam, a Gentile prophet, to curse the Hebrews.

Bilaam failed and gave a stroke to the Hebrews against his will. His advice to Balak was, “If you want to destroy the Jews, your only hope is to make them sin.” Then Balak decided to send the daughters of Moav to conquer the young Jews and they succeeded. This immediately led to idolatry and many of the men worshiped Baal Peor.

Arriving to the maximum of the debacle, Zimri, one of the heads of Shevet Simon, took to the camp of the Hebrews a Moabite princess, making a ridiculous public of the act. As he was a leader of the Jewish people, this was a great threat to the survival of the nation. A plague broke out and thousands of Hebrews died.

Pinchas runs to Moshe

Pinchas saw what was happening and ran to Moshe to ask for his advice. Moshe, directed him to take action. At the risk of your life and defying all odds, you spotted the crowd and killed Zimri and the Moabite woman. Before their bodies hit the floor, the plague stopped. It was a clear and obvious signal that Pinchas had acted correctly. Acting courageously and promptly, he saved the Hebrews from destruction. Clearly, he was a hero.

With everything and that, the parasha immediately following, which is called, Parasha Pinchas, begins with a pasuk repeating his lineage: Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon. “Rashi explains that the Torah delineates his ancestors because he was the subject of ridicule. In the other shvatim they mocked him, “Have you seen this son who worships idols? His mother’s father fattened the calves to serve the idols, and he has the audacity to kill the shevet’s boss    Therefore, the Torah repeats that he was a direct descendant of Aharon to let us know that he was perfectly justified in what he did.

This Rashi is difficult to understand because it implies that people looked at what Pinchas did and assumed that he was wrong even though he had direct orders from Moshe Rabbeinu. Many miracles happened that allowed him to triumph, and the plague that killed 24,000 people stopped only when he finally killed Zimri. How is this possible then, that everyone could see Pinchas in any other way, but as a hero?

The eyes of history

The answer to this question is that there are almost always two different perspectives of an event: the perspective of living in the moment, and the perspective of history. While the episode is in action, sometimes it is very difficult to identify the real problems and the reasons that are being debated. The changes are happening quickly, things are moving at a pace too hellish, and clarity is ungraspable.

After the facts, when the dust settles, and some time passes, what happened is often seen, from a different approach, and what was previously hidden, is now obvious.

When we look back at history, everything is clear and evident. The heroes excel using bright armor, the villains appear in black robes, and all fit perfectly in their camps. But those who were living at the time, were not so clean and neat. The good guys did not all appear in white, and the bad guys did not all appear in black. They were somewhere in between.

Each generation has its tests, and one of the most difficult tasks for a coming generation is to look back and understand the test of an earlier stage. Often, when we look back, we can not understand how people living then could do what they did. We took it lightly, “We would never have acted like that! If we had been living in Spain in the mid-1500s, we would have escaped from the country or we would have given up our very lives – without any questions about that. If we had reached these shores in 1920, of course, we would have saved the Shabbos and Kashrus . “What’s more, we can not understand, as any other person could think otherwise.

The reason why we can not even see the temptation is because we are judging the generation according to our social climate.   We are assuming that the wind that was blowing then are the same as now. But the social environment was very different. Social norms – what was expected and accepted, what was valued and revered – were totally different. And as such, social pressures were very different from what they are now.

Understanding the criticism of Pinchas

For the people who were living during the time of Pinchas, there was justification for what Zimri did. The logic could have been that by bringing the Moabite woman into the camp, she was not going to pull the men to worship the idols. But whatever the logic, there were arguments in favor and against. The point is that a great man – the chief of Shevet  – did that act, and it is not entirely clear that what he did was totally wrong. It is only now, after what happened, when we have the perspective of history, that we can see the trial and the temptation with absolute clarity.

This concept has a great relevance for us. Today we face nisayonos that previous generations would laugh at. Many of us live in two-income homes, we are working long and hard hours, and even then, we can hardly survive. If our great-grandparents looked at our generation, they would be shocked. “Why do you need such a luxurious home? A separate bedroom for each child? Does each family need their own car? Every child a new suit?

Different types of shoes for every day and another for Shabbos? Our great-grandmothers would ask us, “Why do you need such a splendid wedding?” And embarrassed we would answer, ” High Bubbie , this is only the vort!  The reality is that we live a lifestyle that the previous generation could not conceive or imagine.

But it has its cost. The biggest cost is time. Time to learn Time for daven. Time to be good parents. Time to be a support spouse. And more than anything else, time to think about what we should achieve on this planet.

While we are living in the richest of times, in many ways we are the poorest of the poor. By refocusing our priorities and understandings of the strong traction of our times, we can recognize the evidence of our generation and we can strengthen ourselves to overcome them.

This is an excerpt from the Shmuz in Parsha’s book. .

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