1.

At the end of last week’s parshah we read about the failed prophet Bilaam whose attempts to curse the Jewish people were unsuccessful. Nevertheless, his hatred for the Jews provoked him to advise Balak to entice Jewish men to commit acts of immorality with Moabite women. Unfortunately, he achieved considerable success to the extent that even Zimri, a prince of the tribe of Shimon, was entrapped.

Fortunately, Pinchas, a grandson of Aaron and grand nephew of Moshe, came to the rescue. Singlehandedly, he took the law into his hands and by his bravery and forthright actions he put an end to the devastating plague that had taken 24,000 lives in retribution for the heinous immorality.

This week, Pinchas, the hero, comes to center stage. A portion in the Torah is named after him and he received Kehunah — priesthood — as his reward.

Before Pinchas was appointed as a Kohen, Hashem, instructed Moshe to make the following statement about him in His behalf. “Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aaron, the Kohen turned away My wrath from the children of Israel by zealously avenging Me in their presence. Therefore, say I am hereby giving him My covenant of peace. It shall be for him and his offspring after him an eternal covenant of priesthood, because he took vengeance for his G‑d and atoned for the Children of Israel” (25:10-13).

Proper analysis of this statement raises a grammatical difficulty. Hashem instructed Moshe verbatim what to say. Moshe was not transforming the words that Hashem instructed him to deliver. Rather, he conveyed the message as though Hashem would now be personally speaking. Therefore, Moshe says “Chamati” — “My anger,” “Kinati” — “My vengeance,” “Hineni notain” — “I am giving, “et b’riti” — “My covenant.” In light of the above-described pattern when the reason for this eternal rewards is given, in lieu of saying “tachat asher kinei l’Elokav” — “because he took vengeance for his G‑d” — shouldn’t the wording be “tachat asher kinei Li — “because he took vengeance for Me”? Why the changeover in phraseology from first person to third person?

This may be understood after the following preface. The relationship of Hashem with the Jewish people is twofold — bichlal and bifrat — collective and individual.

When Hashem revealed Himself at Mount Sinai to give the Torah, the revelation would not have occurred had the entire community of 600,000 not been present (see Midrash Rabbah, Devarim 7:8). On the other hand, the commandments were addressed to each one present and also future generations, in a person-to-person form. The language used was not plural, but singular. Hashem said to each and every Jew in a singular form, “I am G‑d your G‑d” (Shemot 20:2). Alluding, that each person consider it as though nothing exists besides himself and it is incumbent on the individual to personally do all he can for G‑d, Hashem’s message was that each individual must consider it his obligation to see that Torah is observed and preserved, and one’s individual actions affect the entire community at large.

Pinchas was in a precarious situation: He witnessed immorality of the highest level being perpetrated, and he also observed that Moshe and the elders were crying and wailing.

The call of the hour was for immediate action. Pinchas instantaneously concluded, regardless of whether anyone does anything, “This is my G‑d. I must do everything and anything humanly possible, or even more than that, to prevent and stop a Chillul Hashem — a desecration of my G‑d.”

Hashem told Moshe to declare that He was rewarding Pinchas not merely for his braveness in standing up against the mob, but primarily because “kinei leilokov — with his actions he demonstrated that G‑d was his G‑d and he personally had to act for Him.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, you have now become obligated to fulfill Torah precepts. Always bear in mind that Hashem has personally commanded you and anticipates that regardless of everyone else, you personally do your utmost. As the Rambam (Teshuva 3:4) put it, “A person should always envision the world as balanced and think that with his one deed he could swing the scale to the side of merit.”

Emulating and putting into action the message of Pinchas will be a source of reward to you for posterity.


2.

The name of this week’s parshah is Pinchas. It starts off with giving the yichus — genealogy —of Pinchas and the reward he merited for his heroic action against rampant immorality.

I will start my talk with relating some interesting things about Pinchas.

There is a popular saying that “Pinchas zeh Eliyahu — “Pinchas is Eliyahu” (see Targum Yonatan to Shemot 6:18). Since Eliyahu lived generations after Pinchas, the saying should have been “Eliyahu is Pinchas”?

Eliyahu was one of the angels whom Hashem consulted when he said “Na’aseh adam — “Let us create man” (Bereishit 1:26). Afterwards, the angel came to this mundane world clothed in the body of Pinchas and lived over 500 years to become the famous prophet Eliyahu until he returned back to heaven. Consequently, Eliyahu preceded Pinchas by many years (see Midbar Kedeimot, section alef #26).

Incidentally, according to the above, it is understood why the Torah never identifies Eliyahu’s father and mother. He is never mentioned as Eliyahu son of so and so, but known by the title “Navi,” or “Tishbi,” and “Gileadi” since he resided in Toshav and Gilead.”

According to Midrash Tanchuma the two men Yehoshua sent to spy the land and Jericho were Calev and Pinchas. When Rachav was asked by the kings offices to turn him over to them, it says “And the woman took the two men vatitzpeno — and she hid him” (2:4).

Rashi and Radak explain that she needed only to hide Calev but Pinchas was a malach — angel — and he could stand before them and not be seen.

Another interesting thing about Pinchas is that in the Torah the name Pinchas is written with a yud (פינחס), and according to the Zohar (237b) Pinchas with a “yud” has the numerical value of two hundred and eight, as does the name of the patriarch Yitzchak (יצחק).

What is the connection between Pinchas and Yitzchak?

The prophet Eliyahu encountered the false prophets of the idol Ba’al and challenged them to prove whose G‑d was the true one. It was agreed that he and they would each prepare an offering, and the one whose offering would be consumed by a fire descending from heaven would be the representative of the authentic G‑d. All their attempts to bring down fire were to no avail. When Eliyahu prayed, “Aneini Hashem aneini” — “Please G‑d answer me” — a fire descended from heaven (see I Kings 18:19-40).

According to the Gemara (Berachot 26b) the three prayers of the day, Shacharit, Minchah, and Maariv were originated by the patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov respectively. The Gemara (ibid. 6b) says that one should be very careful with praying the Minchah services since Eliyahu’s prayers were answered during the afternoon prayer of Minchah.

Consequently, his name is written with a “yud,” indicating the parallel between him and Yitzchak, hinting that Pinchas who is Eliyahu, would be answered in his confrontation with the false prophets when he would recite Yitzchak’s prayer — Minchah.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, permit me to share with you a thought I once heard from my grandfather, Harav Hagaon Tzvi HaKohen z”l Kaplan regarding Eliyahu, on which I will be base a message to you..

Before Eliyahu parted with his student Elisha and ascended to heaven, he said to him “Request what I should do for you before I am taken away from you.” Elisha asked him, “May twice your prophetic power be mine.” Eliyahu said, “You have made a difficult request; [however], im tir’eh oti lukach mei’itach yehi lecha chein — if you will see me taken from you, it shall be so for you — but if you do not, then it will not happen” (II Kings 2:9, 10).

What does Elisha’s seeing Eliyahu being taken away have to do with his request? Moreover, Eliyahu’s ascent to heaven took place in broad daylight before other witnesses. If so, what is unique about Elisha that he merited such a level of prophecy?

My grandfather explained that Eliyahu was telling Elisha, “I consider you my most dedicated disciple, and I know how much respect you have for me. However, I am wondering what our relationship will be when I am no longer physically here. Thus, im tir’eh oti — if you will continue to see me — i.e. envision my presence at all times — even when lukach mei’itach — I am physically taken away from you — then you will have proven your greatness and you will merit twice my prophetic power.”

My dear Bar Mitzvah, you are fortunate to have parents who provided an authentic Torah and Chassidish education for you. You were brought up in a home that is permeated with Torah observance and Chassidish warmth. May you be blessed to always proceed in this path. Throughout your life, even when you will, please G‑d, be away from home or making a home of your home, always envision your venerable parents and the home that you were reared in. Do what you know would be proper in their eyes and compatible with the atmosphere that permeated their home and the ideals they instilled in you.