Torah Portion of the Week – Pinchas – Love and Hate in Orthodox Judaism – The Reforms are Wrong – A Powerful Parable about Debt Collectors – A Great Story about Brisker Rav and Peace in Your Home – Creating Dialogue
The Torah Podcast Transcript
064 The Torah Podcast – Love and Hate in Orthodox Judaism – Why Reform Judaism is Wrong
Torah Portion of the Week – Pinchas
After last week’s podcast where I denounced homosexuality, I got some negative feedback. Some of the comments called me an ignoramus, a bigot, anti-Semite, anti-Jewish, a rant against humanity. Therefore, I decided to start this week’s podcast explaining a little bit about where I’m coming from, and what are some of the basic foundations of Orthodox Judaism.
First and foremost we hold that the written Torah and the Oral Torah were both given at Sinai. And the words are perfect, and there are no extra words and no extra ideas. I want to quote to you here from the Darkei Gemara, Rav Yitzhak Confetone says like this. “The basic principle of all intensive study is to be extremely exacting with the language and the text. One must try to see if there’s any extra words, repetitive subjects, if there’s a new idea, there has to always be a new idea. And you have to examine every change in language, law or subject matter between the current text and another text.” In other words, everything has to fit perfectly. He continues and says, “In the beginning of your study accept as a premise and make part of your thinking that each and every speaker whether he asks or answers a question, is extremely intelligent. All their words are words of wisdom, understanding and knowledge. They do not contain something crooked or twisted.” And this is what our Rabbis meant when they said, ‘Are we dealing with fools?’ Therefore you must look deeply into the words and see if they have meaning and if they’re strong or if they’re weak. And it’s up to us to validate the logic behind their words, and to correct their statements in a way that it becomes pleasing and acceptable and reasonable to the mind. We should never commit the great sin and crime of ascribing bad or weak reasoning to their words, because none of their words are erroneous, for all of them are the words of the living God. Because it says, ‘If the words of Torah are empty, the emptiness comes from you.’” This is the basis and the foundation of Orthodox Judaism. It’s our job to figure out what the Torah is saying. If we don’t understand, that means that we don’t understand. That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the text. That doesn’t mean there’s something with the Torah. It means we’re lacking. The greatest minds in history for thousands of years spent hours and hours toiling over the texts of the Gemara and the Torah. And they did it day and night, and all the explanations and ways of viewing things are all based on the greatest minds who put their lives on the line for what the text was saying.
It says, the Rama had 256 possibilities in a text before the halacha, before he gave the law. 256 ways of looking at it. So, when the world says, “Oh, there’s many opinions,” what do you mean many opinions? It’s opinions of experts, of professionals. And that’s why it’s our obligation to justify the text, because if we don’t understand it, it means we’re missing in understanding. And our whole tradition is based on the kavod, the honor that we give to our forefathers and the tradition that we received from them. And if we equate ourselves to be on their level to make up new laws and to change things, we’re making a big mistake.
The verse in Parshas Pinchas says like this. “And Moses did as Hashem commanded him, and he took Yehoshua.” What does Rashi explain it means, “He took Yehoshua?” He’s about to give Yehoshua the position of taking over the Jewish people. Rashi says, “He took him and influenced him with words, and he informed him of the reward of the Jewish people’s leaders in the world to come.” The Chofetz Chaim explains, “In each generation our nation’s leaders must faithfully stand guard making sure that Klal Yisroel follows the path of Torah and observes all the mitzvos of Hashem exactly as it was in the days of Moshe Rabbeinu, and not one iota less. And the reward for doing so is prepared for them.” In other words, Moshe Rabbeinu told Yehoshua, “It’s going to be difficult. It’s going to be hard, but in the end you’re going to have tremendous reward.” Reward for what? For faithfully guarding exactly every single word of the Torah, the Torah Shebichtav, the Written Torah, and the Torah She Bal Peh, the Oral Torah. This is the foundation of Orthodoxy which differentiates us between the Conservatives and the Reform. Now, the truth is, it’s not really blaming them. I feel that the Conservative and Reform were mis-educated. They were not taught by their teachers to give the proper value to the text. And when that happened, you never really see the beauty of the Torah. The beauty only comes when you understand that it’s all perfect and it all has to fit, and then you understand the new ideas that are coming out, and the foundations that the Rabbis were trying to give over.
I once asked Rav Chaim Zimmerman who was one of the Gedolei haDor, one of the great Torah scholars of our time, “Is it better to remember the Gemara word by word, or is it better to remember it conceptually?” There’s a statement and there’s a difficulty, there’s an answer to a difficulty. He answered me, “There’s no difference. These are the words that express the concepts. There is no better way to express the concepts, so you’re going to wind up remembering it word for word anyway, because if you want to understand the concepts you have to be fixated on the words. And this is the job of every Jewish leader in every generation, to make sure the tradition continues. And this is what kept the Jewish people alive to date, that we’re still around as a people. It’s only because of our pure adherence to the Torah, the way it was handed down from Mount Sinai.
At the end of last week’s Parsha the verses say like this. “Behold, a man from the Children of Israel came and brought the Midyanite woman near to his brothers before the eyes of Moses and before the eyes of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel.” What happened? Zimri, the prince of Shimon, brought this woman, Cosbi, the daughter of Tzur – the king’s daughter, the Midyanite king’s daughter. He brought her into the tent in front of everybody. And he was going in to sin with her so the verse says, “Pinchas the son of Eliezer, the son of Aaron haCohen, stood up and took his spear in his hand, and he followed them into the tent and he pierced them both while they were being together.” He stuck the spear through both of them and they stuck together. The plague was halted from upon the Jewish people. But those who died were 24,000. He stopped the plague. The continuation of this with the first possuk of this week’s Parsha says, “Hashem spoke to Moses saying, ‘Pinchas, the son of Eliezer, the son of Aaron haCohen, turned back My wrath from upon the Children of Israel when he zealously avenged My vengeance among them. So I did not consume the Children of Israel with My vengeance. Therefore behold, I give him my covenant of peace, and it shall be for him and his offspring a covenant of eternal priesthood, because he took the vengeance for his God, and he atoned for the Children of Israel.” This is the law of the zealot, kanim pogim bo. In such a case in front of 10 men, they see another man do such a thing one could come in and take the law in his own hands and kill them. This is the law in the written Torah itself.
The Malbim explains that Pinchas risked his life, why? Because of three things. First of all, he risked the retaliation of all of Zimri’s tribe or of Shimon. Second of all, he had to make sure he caught them together during the act, because if not he would be considered a murderer. And third of all, he killed the daughter of the King of Midyan. But he didn’t care, because he was working for God. The verse says, “God is a God of vengeance,” and Pinchas took into his own hands and brought down the vengeance of God. The question is, what is this vengeance? It’s not what we think it is. Rav Wolbe explains, “It’s not sweet revenge. It’s nothing personal. He was doing what the Torah said to do, nothing personal.” The Gemara in Yoma 22B says, “A talmid chacham who does not take vengeance like a snake is not a true talmid chacham, because it says in the verse of Tehillim, ‘Ohavei Hashem sinu ra,’ those who love Hashem despise evil. They will do everything in their power to eradicate evil from society. And if not, they’re not considered a true talmid chacham, a true Torah scholar.” But Rav Chaim of Brisk asks a difficulty. He says, “What’s going on here? We know usually that God always grants reward and punishment midda keneged midda, measure for measure. But here by Pinchas, he killed somebody, and what’s his reward? The covenant of peace. So, how could he connect these two things?” The answer is that Pinchas’ kavana, his intention was to save the Jewish people. Like the verse says, “He’s turned back My wrath from upon the Children of Israel, and because of him I did not annihilate the Children of Israel.” Who knows how many would have died if he didn’t do this act? And he goes on to explain, “It’s not that he was a fanatic, and it’s not that he was self-righteous and arrogant. He had a sincere desire to improve the society. He had a sincere desire to save the Jewish people, and to improve society, the continuation of the Jewish people.
He gives an example. If you have a housewife and a cat in the house, both of them don’t want any mice around. But the housewife sincerely wishes that there’s no mice. But the cat on the other hand, he wants the mice and he wants to kill the mice. So, he’s happy to see the mice. He says, “The cat is like a self-righteous person, a person who’s religious just because he wants to show how great he is, how right he is, how correct he is. That has nothing to do with real religion.” This is a major point. There are two parts to religion, there’s bein adam lechavero u’bein adam leMakom, between man and man and between man and God. And all of them are written in the Torah. And it’s known in Chazal that Pinchas ben Eliezer ben Aharon haCohen, he had the qualities of Aharon which was a lover of peace, a pursuer of peace. He loved God’s creatures and would draw a man to Torah. He spent all his days making shalom bayis, Aharon haCohen spent all his days making shalom bayis, peace between husband and wife. He had no personal hate against Zimri. His whole goal was just for the honor of God.
Rav Henoch Leibowitz points out, “Where do we see that? Because when Pinchas saw what happened, he didn’t just run right away with the spear. He first went to Moses to make sure what the halacha was. It’s true, he had emotions and he was jealous for God. But still, he used his intelligence – what does it say in the Torah? He was rational.” He explains, “A true kanai, zealot, is one who possesses both an all-encompassing devotion to Hashem and an equally overwhelming love for fellow Jews.” Zeal and devotion can’t apply to just half the Torah, to Shabbos and kashrus and modesty and other mitzvos that are just between man and God, but they also must be matched equally with love, kindness, compassion and consideration to other people. Otherwise, it’s your own agenda. But it’s not a contradiction. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz explains, “He was able to kill Zimri but still he was considered the son of Aharon. He had love for the Jewish people.” Also by Avraham and Yishmael, one place it says, “He loathed him, he hated Yishmael because of his sins.” Another place it says, “The one who you love.” And Avraham didn’t know if he was speaking about Yitzhak or speaking about Yishmael. Justice can only come from a place of love. And all the mitzvos bein adam leMakom, between man and God, have to come from a place of love between man and man. And if that’s not happening it’s wrong. That’s why they say, “Orthodox are extremists.” Which Orthodox are extremists? The ones that love their fellow man? No, it’s a couple of guys, they don’t care about other people and they’re using religion in a self-righteous way. It gives religion a bad name.
Just because we follow the laws of the Torah and we’re exacting in them, and we’re against homosexuality because it’s written clearly in the Torah that it is forbidden. It doesn’t mean we hate people, it doesn’t mean we’re against people. We’re trying to do what the Torah says. And not only that but you have to even be more careful when a person is putting out judgement, or judging people. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz brings down the Gemara in Yoma 54B that explains that when the Jews came into the Beis haMigdash they saw the cheruvim hugging each other – these angel-like forms above the Tabernacle. When they’re hugging each other it’s a sign that God is close to us, so what’s going on? At the time of the destruction of the Temple, God is close to us? The answer is yes, that’s when He’s the closest because when God gives out punishment He comes close to us. He loves us. He doesn’t hate us. He hates our sins. Also when the wife of Lot looked back on Sodom and she turned into a pillar of salt, what did she see? She saw the shechina. God’s presence was there while Sodom was being destroyed. When God punishes us, this vengeance of God is coming out of love. It’s to eradicate evil from the world. And all the more so if we come to punish or to speak bad, we have to love the people. But the halacha is the halacha. The law is the law. We all have to follow the Torah. And if the people are not following the Torah, something has to be done about it.
There was a whole scandal in the news this week that one of the Chaverei Knesset claims the Conservative and Reform Jews are like gentiles. Everybody was screaming, “How can you say such a thing?” But you should know, it’s a meforesh Mishna Berura of, the Chofetz Chaim, the leader of the Jewish people, the one who loved the Jewish people. And the Jewish people loved him. What does it say? That someone for example, who was mechalel Shabbos perparhesia, a person who drives to Shul on Shabbos, dino keakum, he has a din like a gentile. He’s considered a gentile, not Jewish. Ve’aino mestareif to the minyan, and the aspect that he can no longer be part of a minyan. A guy drives to Shul on Shabbos he cannot be part of the minyan. What, he’s not Jewish? Of course he’s Jewish. He’s considered according to the law, not Jewish. Do we hate the guy? No, we don’t hate the guy. We hate the way he’s acting. Do we want to educate him? Of course we want to educate him. But he doesn’t want to be educated. He wants to drive to Shul on Shabbos.
The next Mishna Berura says, “Kol mi she kofer b’Torah”, someone who does not accept Torah she b’al peh, “Aino mestaref lekol devar she bekedushah,” he cannot be added to anything that requires holiness. He can’t participate. Why? Because he doesn’t believe in the Torah she bal peh. He’s a Tzaduki, and this is not a new problem this is an old problem. It’s been going on for thousands of years. But this is the way that we shomer the Torah, this is the way that we protected ourselves. This is why the Jewish people are still here, and the religious people are still here, and Torah is still being learned because there are rules. Do the rules come from hate? No. The rules are coming from love. Look at it the opposite way. Why is this guy driving to Shul? He wants to do it his way? So do it your way, but leave us alone. The women at the Wall, they want to read from a sefer Torah. But they can’t, it’s not the halacha, it’s not what the Torah says. It’s not what God wants. I don’t understand why they want to read it at the Wall. If they have a new religion, let them get a new wall. Why do they need the old Wall? They want to twist everything to fit them. Are they experts in learning? Do they give kavod to what the Torah says, do they give honor? Are they greater than the sages that spent their days and nights toiling in the learning, trying to understand the words of God instead of pushing their own trip?
Somebody leaves a comment from one of the Torah sages of today. Who’s that? A Rabbi who’s a homosexual. Are you kidding me? You can’t do that act and still be called a Rabbi. They want to twist the whole Torah around. It’s arrogant and it’s self-serving. The Torah says meforash, you cannot do acts like that. It’s written clear as a bell. You want to twist the whole Torah? Leave the Torah alone. Go do what you want to do, what’s it have to do with Torah? You feel good being Jewish, you want to shlep it in? Just because I’m saying these things or other Rabbis say these things, it doesn’t mean we hate. We hate evil, we don’t hate the people. Of course you would mekarev the guy, of course you’d re-educate them and bring them into the fold, and explain to them because the real talmid chacham has both qualities – sino ra, he hates evil but he loves people. You have to be one of the talmidim that’s Aharon haCohen, ohev shalom, loving people, between man and God or between man and man. And because of this quality, that’s why Pinchas received what? A bris shalom. Now, what does bris shalom mean? Chazal explains it to mean life, long life – the power of life. Different shtitas, but some Pinchas lived for over 300 years. Some say even further than that. And according to the shitta that says that Pinchas was Eliyahu, he never died. So, the Seforno explains, “He who makes peace in the heights, because indeed all diminishing of life is caused as a result of opposing conflicting forces.” Now, this blessing of peace was fulfilled by Pinchas who lived much longer than his contemporaries, because he didn’t have conflicting forces. He was shalem, he was complete. He had both the love of man and the love of God. That’s a balanced person, not just a love of God and he’s a nasty guy and not just a love of man, and everything goes.
I just want to end up with the Shem Mi Shmuel. He explains, what was going on with Zimri? What was he thinking? The Gemara in Nazir 23B says, “Both Tamar and Zimri committed adultery.” Tamar was the daughter-in-law of Yehuda, and wound up living with Yehuda, it was adultery. And Zimri went with Cosbi – adultery. Tamar committed adultery and gave birth to kings and prophets, and Zimri committed adultery and on his account many tens of thousands of Yisroel perished. That’s what the Gemara says. So, what’s the difference between them? Chazal tells us that Zimri was trying to do an avera lishma, he wanted to live with this woman to bring out holy children from her. He saw light inside of her. Al pi kabala when Adam haRishon sinned, all the light went all over the world. This light can be redeemed, and that’s what he was trying to do. The tribe of Shimon understood that, and that’s why Pinchas was scared that they’re going to kill him. And what did they say about Pinchas? They were making fun of him. We know that Pinchas also came from Yisro. We know that one of Yisro’s names told us that he fattened calves for idol worship. By idol worship it’s very important that the calf is big and fat. By us by the mizbeach, altar, it doesn’t have to be fat. So, what were they saying? They said, “Pinchas, you’re looking at Zimri externally. Your grandfather fattened calves for avoda zara, idol worship. Everything was external. You don’t see the real intention.” But what does the possuk say? No, he was from Aharon haCohen, the epitome of between man and man, a middle man between people, involved with the relationships of one person to another.
And Pinchas saw deeper. He saw that Zimri wasn’t 100 percent leshem shemayim, he was acting out of own selfish desires. And that’s why he killed him. And what’s interesting Chazal tells us that Eliyahu who is the reincarnation of Pinchas, is malach habris, the angel of Eliyahu comes to every single bris milah, circumcision. Why? Because Pinchas atoned for sexual sin for killing Zimri and stopping the plague, and getting the Jewish people to go on the right path, because the bris is the part of the body that has to do with sexuality. And on the eighth day we take the child and we do the bris. This is shiach to Eliyahu, and it’s shiach with Pinchas. We take our little boy that we love and we do an act that can only be explained by our connection to the Creator, bein adam leMakom, because who in their right mind would do such an act? If it wasn’t written in the Torah, if we weren’t Jews who believed in the Torah, if we weren’t a people who had a tradition, we would never do a bris milah. But not everything is between man and man. As Jews we live in two worlds, our relationship to God and our relationship to man, and they both have to be fulfilled completely, b’shelemus. And that’s what gives us life. The bris is the beginning of the child’s life. And the Seforno explains, “Death is caused by two forces going in an opposite direction. But the bris shalom, the covenant of life, is when those two forces go in the same direction with the same intensity, and the same balance of what it means to be a Torah-true Jew.
A Powerful Parable
The Maggid mi Dubno asks, “Why is it that Pinchas got the bris of shalom, and Moshe Rabbeinu didn’t get the bris of shalom? Many times Moshe stood up against the Jewish people and told them the right way to go, and fought for the truth.” He wants to explain with a moshul, parable. One time one person had many creditors. Each time the creditors would come, his friends would come and try to defend him and they would offer them excuses and delay the payment to a different date. One time the creditors came back and somehow they got through everybody and they got in to the guy. They said, ‘Pay up now.’ One of the friends came in and said, ‘Okay, he’ll pay now. But you have to erase some of these debts. Bring it down. He’s in such bad shape, it’s so long ago,’ and he speaks to the creditors and he gets them to bring the price way down. That friend did more than all the other friends. Even though the other friends stopped the debtors from coming and he gave him more time, but in the end this one friend brought the debt down.
So too, the Jewish people. The Jewish people did the sin of the egel, the Golden Calf, idol worship. And there were dues to pay, so Moshe Rabbeinu kept defending them and pushing it off till Pinchas came along and he erased the debt completely. So, the verse says, “The daughters of Tzelophchad drew near.” The Midrash Rabba explains that in that generation the woman would always come and fix up the breaches that the men did not keep. We know when Aharon haCohen told them to get these rings from their wives ears, the women refused to give the gold, to build the Golden Calf. And here in this case, the men didn’t want to go into Eretz Yisroel, but the possuk says, “The daughters of Tzelophchad drew near.” They wanted to go into Eretz Yisroel.
One time the Brisker Rav in Europe during the time of the enlightenment was in shul, synagogue on Yom Kippur. So, the people from the enlightenment they wanted to make a choir. They made a choir. They were going to sing on Yom Kippur, and this was to entice the congregation to follow in their ways. What happened? The choir stood up to start to sing, and the Brisker Rav yelled, “Sit down.” So, they sat down. The community leaders in the front of the room, they told them to sing, so they got up to sing. The Brisker Rav again said, “Sit down,” so they sat down. And this continued for a while. At a certain point the Brisker Rav turned to the ladies section and cried out, “Jewish women, they’re trying to destroy the Torah and you’re keeping silent?” Immediately the women bent over and reprimanded their husbands. As a result, the town leaders gave up and the breach was closed.
Peace in Your Home
Rav Simcha Cohen speaks about dialogue in the home. Man is a creature of speech, a baal chaim medaber, a living thing that speaks. And he brings Rav Wolbe who explains, “Speech was specifically created for the forming of ties and closeness. And this is why if somebody uses speech to distance people, Chazal says it’s not received before the Divine presence. Mockers, liars, flatterers and slanderers, four groups that are not received by the Divine presence.” And all the more so a married couple. Through speech, each partner gets to express his feelings. They can ask for things, they can unburden themselves from their troubles and their worries. It creates an emotional bond. But if there’s a lack of dialogue between the couple, so alienation develops. They live in the same house, they take care of the same kids, but they have no connection and it breeds bad feelings. It’s like people say, “We’re not on speaking terms.” And if one of the couple is speaking to the other one, the other one’s not paying attention or it takes them five minutes to answer, it’s going to do damage. But people are oblivious to how much their words are affecting. If you have to go speak on national television, you’d be very careful with your words. But in the house, you use whatever words you want. We know that professional speakers spend tons of time trying to develop their ability to speak, to communicate – how loud they speak, with the right intonation, how they dress. It’s all part of communication. So, if you want to communicate in your house, the same thing. You have to have a good feeling towards the person you’re speaking to, you have to be pleasant and smiling, and look good. And you have to believe in what you’re saying. And if not, you have a breakdown in communication.
Rav Yerucham even goes as far as to say that if you speak in a manner that the person wants to listen to you, you’re fulfilling the mitzvah of veahavta lereicha kemocha, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. He says, “If you write a letter to someone you should write it on beautiful paper, good ink, clear penmanship. Write slowly. It’s a mitzvah. So too, married couples. When they want to communicate they should do it in the proper way. But the problem is that a man’s idea of conversation and a woman’s idea of conversation are two different things. Man has a conversation because he wants to communicate something. He’s trying to express himself. He’s trying to tell his wife something. A woman’s conversation is the goal itself. They’re just talking in order to talk, but that’s the way they’re built. The Gemara says, “10 kafim of sicha, of conversation, were given into the word and 9 kafim were given to the women. You could have a classic example like this. The woman says, “Why don’t you ever talk to me?” The man says, “I do.” She says, “When was the last time we spoke?” He says, “A half hour ago. I asked you where David’s shoes were. I asked you what happened at the dentist with Libby’s teeth.” She starts to cry, “You see? You never talk to me. You only speak when there’s something to take care of. We never have a real conversation.”
But the answer is that Hashem built women like this in order that they can raise their children properly. Studies even show that women who speak to their kids when they’re little even though they don’t understand, they have a higher level of intelligence. We even know one of the midwives who was Miriam was called Puah, she spoke to the babies. So, there’s a reason why a woman needs to speak more. Chazal says, “Whoever sleeps in the same chamber in which a man and a wife reside of him scripture says, ‘You expel the wives of my people from their pleasurable house.’ The Maharsha explains there the problem is they’ll be embarrassed to speak together. You should never make a situation where you’re stopping a couple from speaking with each other. You’re doing nezek, you’re doing damage. The Chazon Ish says, “It’s a Torah obligation for a man to speak to his wife.” That’s why it says, “He will be exempt from his house for one year and he should rejoice with his wife he has taken,” because when you have a conversation what are you saying? I’m interested in you. I can learn from you. It’s pleasant to be around you. It’s not that the wife wants to self-indulge. She really needs you to listen to her. Sometimes a wife even gets jealous, if the husband’s all of a sudden talking on the phone, he comes in the house and calls somebody and speaks to them for half an hour, she gets upset. She didn’t even want to speak to him, but when she saw him speaking to somebody else, she got upset because that dormant need inside of her gets awakened.
So, what should a man do? During the day before he comes home, he should think of things that he’s going to tell his wife. He sees this thing, “Oh, that will be interesting to tell my wife. Or he reads this article, “We could talk about that.” He should find things that she wants to speak about. This way it will be bring peace into his home.
Okay, that’s it for this week’s Torah podcast, I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it with your friends, and please leave comments.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff