This week's portion begins by G‑d praising Pinchas for turning back G‑d's wrath. Because Pinchas avenged G‑d's honor, He did not eradicate the Jewish people. Pinchas was rewarded in that he and his progeny were conferred with the status of priesthood. The Shelah reminds us that when we see an act that desecrates the name of G‑d or the Torah, we should be zealous to stop it. G‑d's appreciative reward to Pinchas shows us how important such actions are. We have to try to create…changes that affect our behavior…

After the sin of the Golden Calf, Moses also turned away G‑d's wrath and ended the plague. Why, then, wasn't Moses also rewarded with the priesthood, or at least with something that could be bequeathed to his descendants? The answer is that Moses used his power of prayer to nullify the negative decree from Above. Although Moses accomplished it, we see that the effect on the Jews was minimal - i.e. they sinned again. Therefore, the reward Moses received was also only temporal. Pinchas, on the other hand, affected the world from below, by causing the Jews to repent through his deed. Since he changed the way the world is composed, at least in some measure, the world could not return to it former state. Accordingly, G‑d rewarded him in a similar fashion, with an eternal change of status as a priest. In relation to ourselves, we have to try to create "facts on the ground", positive changes that affect our behavior, not just changes in our thoughts and emotions that are detached from action. G‑d is sending us the cure before the illness…

Pinchas is often the portion that begins the observance of the Three Weeks. One explanation is based on the statement in the Midrash Yalkut Shimoni, that Pinchas is in fact Elijah, the harbinger of the Redemption. G‑d is sending us the cure before the illness! The Three Weeks are a period of mourning for the destruction of the Temple and the ensuing exile we are still suffering. The end of the exile will commence with Elijah's announcement that the Mashiach has arrived. Behold, do not lose faith, the Redemption is in the works.

Even the words themselves, "Pinchas is Eliyahu" reinforce the message. "Pinchas" evokes the image of serving G‑d at any cost, even at the peril of one's own life. Elijah is the beginning of the Redemption. "Pinchas is Elijah", means that when we act with self-sacrifice, we bring the Redemption closer.

The Seer of Lublin says that the Three Weeks are connected with the three festivals, Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot. At first glance, we might think this means that just as we are commanded to be happy during the festivals, we are supposed to be sad during the Three Weeks. This is not the case! Chassidim are quick to remind everyone of the Talmudic saying (Taanit 29) that in the month of Adar (which contains Purim) we increase our joy, and in the month of Av (the last nine days of the three weeks) we decrease joy. Don't read it that we decrease, i.e. have less joy; rather, read it that during this period, we lessen, i.e. enjoy the pleasures of the world less, but do it with joy.

The Torah portion concludes with a discussion of the daily and holiday offerings that were brought in the Tabernacle. After the destruction of the Temple, the Talmud tells us that we fulfill our obligation for the daily and special offerings through our daily prayer. The Three Weeks are an especially propitious time to reevaluate our relationship with G‑d through prayer. If we can concentrate on with Whom we are communicating, then just as an offering atoned for our sins, so, too, will our sincere prayers "clean the slate" in our relationship with G‑d.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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