The following episode is related regarding the Brisker Rav, illustrating his utter devotion to his father and mentor, R’ Chaim Soloveitchik.
Is There a Doctor in the House?
During his own term as rav of the city of Brisk, R’ Chaim Soloveitchik was attended to by a personal physician, a certain Dr. Shereshevsky. While far from the spiritual level of the great sage, the good doctor was nonetheless quite dedicated to the rav of Brisk. He assured R’ Chaim that he would make himself available whenever he may be needed.
And so it happened one time that R’ Chaim, suffering late one night from a certain ailment, was in urgent need of Dr. Shereshevsky’s services. He dispatched his son R’ Velvel (future Brisker Rav) to summon him to his home. Upon making some hasty inquiries, R’ Velvel discovered that the doctor was to be found at that hour in a certain location into which the scholar had never before stepped foot. This was the local theater, hardly the place for a yeshivah man – especially one of such eminent stature. But R’ Velvel’s father was ill and had issued instructions. R’ Velvel had a duty to which he must attend.
Upon entering the theater, R’ Velvel beheld a most unusual sight: crowds of people, arranged as if on a slope, all sitting in rows in complete darkness. At the front there were other individuals moving around on a stage, bellowing out toward the rest of the assemblage. But there was little time to contemplate these strange and new discoveries. How was he to find the doctor in this dark and crowded hall?
There seemed to be only one way. Standing off to the side, R’ Velvel shouted with all of his might: “Dr. Shereshevsky! Dr. Shereshevsky! Father needs you!” No answer yet; and again: “Dr. Shereshevsky! Dr. Shereshevsky! Father needs you!”
Suddenly, he felt a pull at his sleeve. Lo and behold – it was Dr. Shereshevsky! “Please,” the doctor pleaded, “here I am, and I will come. Just please, no more calling out my name in here…” (Barchi Nafshi, Parshas Pinchat).
Thus we get a glimpse of the extent of the Brisker Rav’s loyalty and subservience to his father. While not completely familiar with theater protocol, he certainly, under other circumstances, would have been hesitant to risk making a scene. But there was an urgent matter at hand, namely the welfare of his father and mentor, coupled with the commandments to honor one’s parent and Torah sages. As such, he felt top priority must be granted to nothing other than the mission at hand; all other considerations were overridden. In other words, he understood this to be a situation to which applied the following dictum of Shlomo Hamelech: אֵין חָכְמָה וְאֵין תְּבוּנָה וְאֵין עֵצָה לְנֶגֶד ד‘ – “There is no (place for) calculated, deliberate or strategic thinking when confronted with the Will of Hashem” (Mishlei 21:30). In certain circumstances, there is no place for measured consideration; it is simply a time to act.
Actually, we find tzaddikim (righteous people) throughout the generations who have operated in the spirit of Shlomo’s principle, wherein they cast aside convention and calculation to simply do what is right and preserve Hashem’s honor.
In this vein, the Gemara in Berachot (20a) illustrates the concept of “Ein chochmah…” with the example of R’ Ada bar Ahavah. The issue under discussion there was the question of miracles; the Gemara wondered why it was that the earlier generations merited having miracles performed on their behalf, while the later generations did not enjoy this privilege. It identifies the key factor as mesirut nefesh: the earlier generations were more willing to engage in self-sacrifice than the later ones. As evidence, the Gemara cites the ordeal of R’ Ada bar Ahavah, who one day encountered a woman (he mistakenly believed to be Jewish) dressed in an immodest and ostentatious fashion unbefitting of a true daughter of Yisrael. He lodged his protest and even damaged the garment. Upon the discovery that the individual was in fact a gentile (and hence beyond the jurisdiction of Rabbinic supervision), R’ Ada was fined and set back the hefty sum of 400 zuz. But his initial willingness to disregard his personal standing and even welfare is held up as a model of selflessness and passionate devotion worthy of miraculous reciprocation.
Another prominent individual Chazal identify as a proponent of Shlomo’s dictum is none other than Pinchas, namesake of and key figure in this week’s parshah. The Gemara in Sanhedrin (82a) relates the passuk of “Ein chochmah…” to Pinchas’s initiative in confronting Zimri, who engaged in public impropriety. This behavior left the latter subject to the regulation outlined in the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 9:6), which states:
הַבּוֹעֵל אֲרַמִּית קַנָּאִין פּוֹגְעִין בּוֹ.
“One who partners with a gentile woman is stricken by the zealots.”
While the rest of the nation stood by paralyzed, Pinchas decided to act. To avenge the desecration of Heaven’s honor, he took up his spear to fulfill the Mishnah’s injunction. And it was no small matter to do so. After all, this was no insignificant personage against whom Pinchas took up arms – Zimri was the nasi (chief) of the tribe of Shimon. The Midrash states further that as a result of dispatching their nasi, the tribe of Shimon rose up against Pinchas and threatened his life; the latter was only saved through miraculous, Divine intervention.
Thus, it may very well be that Pinchas – one of the earliest figures to display this attribute – was the model for all others who succeeded him. He demonstrated that there are circumstances that simply call for action; when he deemed that the situation warranted it, he put aside all typical considerations – including his own prestige and even physical welfare – just to do what was right in the eyes of Hashem.
By Minshat Chaim
Yes, We Can Make a Difference in a Seemingly Immoral World
The Gemara says that there was once a great Rabbi known as Shemuel Hakatan. He was so great that he was worthy that Hashem’s shechinah (Hashem’s presence) should rest upon him, but his generation was not worthy to be able to see this. So we see that the generation we live in can cap our spiritual growth. What occurred a year ago with the Supreme Court and the follow up of many [immoral] marriages has the power to limit our own growth.
What do we do about this? Do we just groan about it? Rabbi Avraham Ausband, shlitah, once told this true story. A woman was hired by a company in Riverdale. She dressed very modestly but she appeared somewhat different.
They asked her about her past, and she said she is a religious Jewish convert. She used to live in Bayonne, NJ, and she used to dress inappropriately,Very inappropriately.
Many times she would see the yeshiva students from the Yeshiva of Bayonne walking the streets. She was curious who they were, so she went over to them to ask directions (in her usual immodest garb). They were very polite and answered her, but they always looked down. She was amazed and looked into it, and she converted. This woman who lived on a low moral standard was inspired when she was confronted by modesty and purity in the same way that Bilam was.
Rav Shach, zt”l, once said that the prayer of Alenu that we say at the end of our prayers says: “All the evil-doers of the Earth will recognize and knowâ that every knee will bow to you and that we will take oaths by Your Name.” This means that in the last generation before Mashiah, all the evil-doers will be turned over. It’s our job to turn them over to good. How can we? Our own actions inspire them to change. In that way, this generation we live in will not cap our growth. This generation of ours is both a challenge and an opportunity.
By Rabbi Reuven Semah
“A thousand dollars? Who has that kind of money?”
Frustrated, the doctor says, “Just give me $800 and we’ll be done with it.”
“I can give you 200,” says the man. “Take it or leave it.”
“I don’t understand you,” says the doctor. “Why did you come to one of the most expensive doctors in New York City if you didn’t have any money?”
“Listen doctor An old Jewish man goes to see one of New York’s top medical specialists.
“How much do I owe you doctor?” he asks.
“My fee is $5000.”
“$5000!” the man exclaims. “That’s impossible.”
“Fine, in your case,” the doctor replies, “I suppose I could make it 3000.”
“Well can you afford 1000?” says the patient. “When it comes to my health, nothing is too expensive.”
First aliya: Last week’s reading concluded with Moavite and Midianite women seducing Jewish men and enticing them to idol worship. At that point, Phinchas unilaterally executed a Jewish leader along with the Midianite princess with whom he was cohabiting. This week’s reading opens with G‑d praising Phinehas, and rewarding his bravery by granting priesthood to him and his descendants. G‑d then commands the Jews to punish the Midianites by hounding and smiting them. The fulfillment of this command is described in next week’s reading. G‑d commands Moshe and Elazar the High Priest to conduct a census of all males over the age of twenty.
Second Aliyah: The Israelites are counted, and the totals are given for each of the twelve tribes. The grand total of all the tribes combined is 601,730. The tribe of Levi is not included in this census.
Third Aliyah: As per G‑d’s command, the land of Israel was to be divided amongst all those who were counted in this census. The location of each tribe’s portion would be determined by lottery. The tribe of Levi is now counted. There were 23,000 Levite males above the age of one month. The daughters of Zelophchad approached Moshe and stated that their father had died leaving behind only daughters. They requested to receive their father’s portion in the land of Israel. Moshe relayed their request to G‑d.
Fourth Aliyah: G‑d agreed to Zelophchad’s daughters’ request. Moshe is then instructed the laws of inheritance. Included in these laws is a daughter’s right to her father’s estate if he does not leave any sons. G‑d tells Moshe to climb to the top of Mount Abarim from where he would see the Promised Land before he died. Moshe asks G‑d to appoint a worthy individual to succeed him. G‑d instructs Moshe to endow Joshua with some of his spiritual powers and publicly name him as his successor.
Fifth Aliyah: From this point until the end of this week’s reading, the Torah details the various communal sacrifices which were offered in the Tabernacle and Temple at designated times. This section discusses the twice-daily “Tamid” sacrifice, as well as the additional sacrifices offered on Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh (the first day of the Jewish month).
Sixth Aliyah: This section discusses the sacrifices offered on Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur. The Torah also discusses some of the laws related to these holidays.
Seventh Aliyah: This section discusses the sacrifices offered on the holidays of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret.
Parashat Pinhas marks the conclusion of the tragic story of Ba’al Pe’or, when Beneh Yisrael sinned with the women of Moav and Midyan, and worshipped Moav’s idol, Pe’or. G-d sent a deadly plague that killed 24,000 people among the nation, and the plague stopped only when Pinhas courageously killed Zimri, the leader of the tribe of Shimon, who publicly sinned with a woman from Midyan. In the beginning of Parashat Pinhas, G-d announces the reward granted to Pinhas for his act, and also commands Beneh Yisrael to wage a war of revenge against Midyan.
The incident of Ba’al Pe’or was a plan devised by Bilam, the gentile prophet who, as we read in last week’s Parasha, Parashat Balak, was summoned by the king Moav to curse Beneh Yisrael. After Bilam saw that he could not curse Beneh Yisrael, as G-d repeatedly changed his curses into blessings, he advised the king of Moav to lead Beneh Yisrael to sin by luring them to commit immorality and worship Pe’or.
The Hatam Sofer (Rav Moshe Sofer of Pressburg, 1762-1839) offers a fascinating explanation for why Bilam chose this particular method. His explanation is based on an intriguing passage in the Gemara (Berachot 7), which tells that Bilam knew the precise moment each day when G-d becomes angry. His plan was to seize that moment and curse Beneh Yisrael at that time. However, G-d never became angry during the period when Bilam attempted to curse Beneh Yisrael, and so his efforts failed.
Why does G-d become angry each day?
The Gemara explains that G-d becomes angry each day when the sun rises and the pagan kings of the world remove their crowns and worship the sun. Elaborating on the Gemara’s explanation, the Hatam Sofer writes that since the sun each day becomes an object of idol worship, all the food on earth is tainted with idolatry. After all, all food is grown through sunlight, and thus all food is produced, partially, through an object of pagan worship. This is why G-d is angry each day – because every person on earth is indirectly sustained through idolatry.
And this is why G-d could not get angry at Beneh Yisrael in the wilderness. They were sustained by the manna, the miraculous food which fell each morning from the heavens. Their food was not a product of any object of idolatry, and so they escaped G-d’s anger.
Upon realizing this fatal flaw in his strategy, Bilam came up with a plan: to lure Beneh Yisrael to worship Pe’or. Our Sages teach that Pe’or was an especially bizarre form of idolatry, as the statue was worshipped by its followers defecating on it. As such, Beneh Yisrael were biologically incapable of this worship. The manna, our Sages tell us, was completely absorbed by the body, producing no waste whatsoever. Therefore, as the women of Moav enticed Beneh Yisrael to worship Pe’or, they needed to feed them food and wine. Beneh Yisrael thus became like all other people – sustained by food produced, in part, by sunlight – and they were thus exposed to G-d’s anger. Sure enough, 24,000 people perished.
The Hatam Sofer’s insight helps explain a seemingly peculiar comment of the Gemara later in Masechet Berachot. The Gemara teaches that if a person prays Shaharit in the morning “Ke’vatakin” – meaning, he begins the Amida at the moment of sunrise – then he is assured protection from harm throughout the day. Why should a person earn such protection simply for reciting the Amida at the moment of sunrise? The answer is that he thereby proclaims G-d’s rule and kingship over the earth before the idolaters have a chance to worship the sun. The way we avoid G-d’s anger is by standing before Him in prayer and proclaiming our devotion to Him before we can be tainted by the pagan worship of the world’s idolaters.
While the notion of “sun worship” might seem like an ancient phenomenon that has no bearing on us today, the truth is that this concept is extremely relevant to modern Jewish life. We might draw an analogy to a devoted, hard-working wife who spends an afternoon preparing a scrumptious, nutritious dinner for her family.
After dinner, the husband turns to the housekeeper and thanks her for dinner. The wife, rightfully, reacts with fury over her husband’s giving somebody else the credit for her hard work. G-d similarly reacts angrily when we credit other forces for His handiwork. He gets angry when He sees people worshipping the sun, and neglecting to recognize Him as the Creator and sole Ruler over the earth.
And this phenomenon is no less widespread today than it was in the times of Bilam. Most people today deny G-d’s existence and do not acknowledge Him as the Creator and King over the world. This arouses His anger, each and every day. The way we avoid His anger is by emphatically resisting this trend, and loudly proclaiming His existence. The more we speak about G-d and devote ourselves to His service, the more successful we are in opposing modern-day “sun worship.” We then continue the work of Pinhas, who stood up to oppose the worship of Pe’or, and become worthy of the great reward promised to him by the Almighty: “Behold, I am giving him My covenant of peace.” by Rabbi Eli Mansour