Parsha Halacha

Parshat Pinchas / Shabbat Mevarchim Chodesh Menachem Av

Parshat Pinchas and the Three Weeks

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The Torah portion of Pinchas is usually read in the Three Weeks during which time we mourn for the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple). In fact, whenever the Torah portions of Matot and Masei are joined as they are this year in the Diaspora, the Torah portion of Pinchas is read on the first of the three Shabbatot in the Three Weeks.

Parshat Pinchas and the Three Weeks
The commentaries suggested several connections between this portion and the Three Weeks. Most of these reasons focus on the messages of comfort we can derive from this Torah portion that give us hope and solace during the period of the Three Weeks, also called Bein HaMeitzrim (between the narrow straits).

Here are some of their ideas:
Yeridah LeTzorech Aliyah
The Lubavitcher Rebbe[1] explains that all of the difficulties associated with the Three Weeks are for a greater purpose, as is well known that whenever a person or a community goes through a difficult time, whether physically or spiritually, he should use that as an opportunity to grow even stronger.
This is called yeridah (descent) letzorech (for the purpose of) aliyah (an ascent). So, although the present exile is physically and spiritually challenging, it is these very challenges that bring out in us a deeper connection to the Almighty (e.g., through teshuvah) and pave the way for the coming of Moshiach.[2]
The idea of yeridah letzorech aliyah is found both in the Torah portion of Pinchas, in the Haftorah, and in the name of the Parsha itself. (This is referring to the Haftorah from the beginning of the Book of Yirmiyahu that is read when Pinchas is read during the Three weeks as opposed to the Haftorah of Pinchas when it is read before the Three Weeks which is from the book of Kings I.)
The Torah portion begins with G-d informing Moshe that Pinchas was going to be rewarded for his decisive action in killing Zimri which saved the Jewish people from the plague and atoned for them. Thus, the sin with the daughters of Moav brought about the quality of teshuvah to the Jewish people (they certainly did teshuva to merit atonement) and led to Pinchas becoming a Kohen and eventually a Kohen Gadol.[3]

Reaching the Fifth Level
The Haftorah finishes with the verse[4] קֹדֶשׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל לַה׳ רֵאשִׁית תְּבוּאָתֹה כָּל אֹכְלָיו יֶאְשָּׁמוּ“Israel is holy to the L-rd, the first of His grain; all who eat (i.e., devour or destroy) him shall be guilty…” The Alter Rebbe explains[5] that כָּל אֹכְלָיו – “all those who consume him” refers to a person who causes his own G-dly soul to be concealed (“eat” is like swallowing or concealing[6]) by behaving inappropriately such as by getting angry,[7] by indulging in excess pleasures,[8] or by being generally coarse. If a person behaves this way, he is like a mo’el bekedashim – one who misuses a holy item (his soul), and he must bring a guilt offering[9] (יֶאְשָּׁמוּ is understood to mean “bring an Asham sacrifice”). A person who brings a guilt offering must also pay the value of the benefit he had plus one fifth of that value to the Beit HaMikdash.[10]
In terms of a person’s soul, there are four general soul powers: Will, thought, speech and action. These correspond to the four letters in G-d’s name (yud, kai, vav, kai) and to the four spiritual worlds of Atzilut, Beriyah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah. When doing teshuvah, it is not sufficient to correct all of those four powers. One must reach a higher level of will that is called raava dechol raavin (the will of all wills).
This level can be revealed within the depth of a person’s heart when they do a meaningful teshuvah. This is why Yom Kippur, the day of Teshuvah, has five tefilot (prayers). When doing such a teshuva, one has paid G-d back with the four levels that he misused plus he is adding one fifth as well.
This is an example of a yeridah letzorech aliyah which is what takes place in the time of the Three Weeks.

The Name of the Torah Portion – Overcoming Challenges
The background of Pinchas (after whom the Torah portion is named) also has this theme. Pinchas was a descendant of Yitro who had fattened calves for idol worship.[11] Yet, through serving idols and seeing their worthlessness, Yitro recognized G-d as the only Master and came to the desert to convert. According to our sages, his conversion was a necessary prerequisite for G-d to give the Torah to the Jewish people.[12] Yitro thus went from being an idolatrous priest to being an essential part of the giving of the Torah.

Be Zealous with Caution
Rabbi Gamliel Rabinowitz points out[13] that although Pinchas committed a violent act, since he did it purely for G-d’s sake, it brought peace to the Jewish people instead of strife and hatred.
The second Bait HaMikdash was destroyed due to the sin of baseless hatred.[14] As such, even when being zealous and punishing or reproving sinners, one must take care to do this only for the sake of Heaven because if one mixes in one’s own agenda these actions can increase strife and prolong this exile, G-d forbid.

The Yamim Tovim of Tamuz, Av and Elul
Rabbi Yeshuah Dayan[15] cites the Midrash[16] that G-d had planned to make one holiday in each of the summer months. In Nissan there was Pesach, in Iyar Pesach Sheini, and in Sivan Shavuot. But when the Jewish people sinned with the golden calf, he postponed the holidays of Tammuz, Av, and Elul and put them all into Tishrei.
This is why Tishrei has four holidays, Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Shemini Atzeret. The first three are to make up for the missing holidays of the summer,[17] while the fourth, Shemini Atzeret, is the holiday that was intended for Tishrei from the start. In the future, Tammuz will reclaim the holiday that it was supposed to have, none other than the 17th of Tammuz.
Aharon HaKohen said about that day, “Tomorrow will be a holiday for G-d.”[18] Although at that time the day turned into one of tragedy, the Arizal writes that in the future the words of Aharon will be fulfilled and the 17th of Tammuz will become a great holiday for G-d.
Reading the Torah portion of Pinchas, which includes the sacrifices of all the holidays, reminds us that this time of year will soon also have its own holiday.

Pinchas is Eliyahu
According to some sources, Pinchas was the same person as Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet).[19] The verse says[20] that Eliyahu will arrive before Moshiach and pave the way for him. As such, it is appropriate to read about Pinchas/Eliyahu as we begin the Three Weeks as it reminds us to await the coming of Eliyahu and Moshiach who will transform these days into days of joy.[21]

May they be revealed speedily in our days!
[1] The Lubavitcher Rebbe in Torat Menachem 5747, vol. 4, pg. 99 and on.
[2] See Yalkut Shimoni on Yirmiyahu, Remez 259 ‘A lion (Nevuchadnetzar) came up in the month of the lion (Av) and destroyed the lion (the Beit HaMikdash) so that a lion (G-d) would come up in the month of the lion and rebuild the lion.”
[5] Likutei Torah on Bamidbar 80d and 81a
[6] See Hoshe’a 8:8: “The Jewish people have been swallowed up.”
[7] See Reishit Chochmah, Sha’ar Ha’Ahavah, Chapter 11, otiyot 69 and 70 based on the Zohar: “Whoever gets angry his soul departs from him.”
[8] See Tehillim 5:5 : “No evil will dwell with You.”
[9] See Levit. 5:15
[10] Ibid verse 16
[11] Bamidbar 25:11 See also Rashi on Shemot 18:11: “There was no idol he did not serve”.
[12] See Zohar Vol. 2, pg. 67b: “After Yitro came and admitted and said ‘Now I know that G-d is more powerful than any god… Blessed be G-d who saved you from the hands of the Egyptians…’ (Shemot ibid) then the glory of G-d was elevated above and below and after this He gave the Torah in a perfect manner.”
[13] Quoted by Rabbi Nissim Dayan in Yasgiv Bekocho (Benei Berak 2016) page 105
[14] Yoma 9b
[15] Yeshu’at Hashem (Chulon 2008), page 237
[17] This explains why, before the sin of the Golden Calf it says that Sukkot will be “at the departure of the year” (Exodus 23:16) since that was the plan at that time.
[19] See Pirkei DeRabi Eliezer 46: “Rabbi Eliezer says, ‘G-d called Pinchas by the name of Eliyahu HaNavi of Gilad who caused the Jewish people to do teshuvah on Mount Gilad. G-d paid him and his children back, by making them into kohanim forever.”
[20] Malachi 3:23
[21] Rabbi Nissim Dayan in Tzofnat Pane’ach (Benei Berak 2013), page 239

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach and a Chodesh Tov!

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