1. We have spoken of the importance to increase joy in permitted ways during the period of the “Three Weeks.” The most appropriate and fitting time for such conduct is of course on Shabbos, as the Sifri says:

“On the days of your rejoicing” these are the Shabbosim —(Sifri on Bamidbar 10:10)

This is the first Shabbos of the Three Weeks and as such it provides an opportune time for a happy farbrengen which may then be filtered into the coming days. Hopefully, it will lead to the true and complete joy when these somber days will be converted to days of gladness and festivals, as the Rambam so eloquently describes it, at the close of the Laws of Fast Days.

The farbrengen will not only emphasize the aspect of joy — but also the theme of Ahavas Yisrael and Jewish unity which will nullify the cause of the exile and effect the ultimate change from days of mourning to days of joy, festivity and celebration. In the portion of the Torah we read this week, Pinchas, this theme is emphasized.

In dealing with the various sacrifices offered in the Temple during the holidays the joyous nature of the festivals is portrayed. This celebratory aspect of the holidays is further emphasized in Pinchas by the wine libations that accompanied the animal sacrifices, for the songs of praise in the Temple were only sung when the wine was poured (see Berachos 35a); since “wine makes G‑d and men happy.” (Shoftim 9:13)

There is a more profound association between the Three Weeks and the portion of Pinchas. The theme of the Three Weeks is destruction and exile which came about “because of our sins.” This suffering and trembling was brought upon us because: “He is terrifying in His acts above the sons of man,” (Tehillim 66:5) and it has the purpose of leading to and reaching a greater goal at the end, to rise higher than the earlier lofty state — immeasurably higher — so that the descent becomes worth the trouble.

Teshuvah — repentance converts these days to joy and happiness, above and beyond all other joyous days. It is G‑d’s will that these days become holidays for us — and it is as if He were obliged (has no choice, but) to present it to us in such a manner that we receive it first as days of fasting and lamentations and then we convert them to days of joy through our Divine service.

This concept appears at the beginning and conclusion (of the Haftorah of) Pinchas.

G‑d acknowledges Pinchas’ zealousness which brought atonement for the Jewish People — and promises him the “covenant of peace” and the “covenant of eternal Kehunah.” What emerges is a sequence of events which began and was precipitated by a negative and sinful occurrence, to which the response had to be an act of “zealous vengeance” that effected an elevation in Pinchas the man and in the communal body of the Jewish people. That atonement of course was the result of teshuvah on the part of the populace.

In the Haftorah of Pinchas, Yirmeyahu tells us:

Yisrael (Israel) is holy to the L‑rd...who eat him shall be guilty. (Yirmeyahu 2:3)

Chassidus explains that this refers to one who is on the level of Yisrael — who fought with Elokim — was successful in the battle against the animal soul; such a person is holy unto G‑d, for he rises and is absorbed in the intrinsic desire of the blessed Ein Sof. On the other hand, if he “devours” and rejects his G‑dly soul and does not allow it to illuminate his spirit, he is sinful and must seek penance through a sin offering. Let him feel bitterness in his heart and turn to teshuvah.

In the unauthorized personal use of sanctified objects the Torah rules that one must make restitution and add a fine of one-fifth the value of the object. In actuality he must add one-fourth of the gross value which, when added to the principle, will equal one-fifth of the new total. These four parts are esoterically related to four aspects and garments of a Jew’s soul — also associated with the four letters of the Tetragrammaton as expressed in the verse: “Yisrael is holy to the L‑rd G‑d.” When one profanes this sanctity by unauthorized use, there must be sincere, deep-rooted repentance to compensate and rectify the blemish — this emerges from the fifth aspect of the soul, the super-level above the other four parts. The essential soul will be beyond the normal order of the worlds. It is this level that reveals itself in a Baal Teshuvah to become pure before G‑d, the theme of Yom Kippur.

So Pinchas dwells on the issue of initial descent for the purpose of eventual ascent — to reach the ultimate plateau of teshuvah which is the theme of the Three Weeks.

Teshuvah also enhances and increases joy, for it accentuates the joy of the soul, “which returns to her father’s home as in the days of her youth...and there is no greater joy than the liberation from exile and captivity to freedom as the parable of the crown prince who was in captivity...and was liberated to the house of his father the king.” (Tanya ch. 31)

Being a Shemitah year, the joy of Shabbos is enhanced since every day of the year has the quality of being a “Shabbos to G‑d.” Consequently, the Shabbos days of this year are even more so endowed with joy.

The Shemitah year also accentuates this issue of initial descent for the sake of eventual ascent.

In speaking of the laws of Shemitah the Torah states, “A Shabbos year to G‑d,” two times. “When you enter the land...the earth shall rest a Shabbos to G‑d,” and once again at the conclusion of the details and rules of Shemitah. (Vayikra 25:2 ff) We know that the first Shemitah was not observed until after the seven years of conquest, the seven years of inheritance and distribution and then the six years of planting. If so, why does the Torah start off by saying that when you enter the land you must observe “a Shabbos year to G‑d?” The explanation is that the first reference to Shemitah is the theory and the second is the practice. Your immediate intention must be that you are settling a land which will very soon dedicate a year to G‑d. Even if that Sabbatical year will not come around for 21 years, in reality you must first work the land so that it can then rise to a higher state of rest.

Shemitah therefore focuses on the descent for the sake of ascent — working the earth — the meanest of labors — yet, the work on the land for six years will bring an ascent to the earth and to man in the seventh year, when even the field hands will be able to devote time to Torah study. For this reason, the Torah introduces the rules of Shemitah by stating that the land must rest to show that right at the outset, even before going out to work the field the first year, you must realize that the descent is for the sole purpose of rising higher, to make a year that will be holy to G‑d. Therefore, in a Shemitah year when the Three Weeks begin we immediately know that the goal is to go higher to be converted to joy, happiness and holidays.

This year Tishah BeAv and the 17th of Tammuz occur on Tuesday. As we know, the rule for setting the days on which the holidays will occur depends on the setting of Pesach. We then use the code of “A’t “B’ash, “G’ar and know that Tishah BeAv will be the same day of the week as the first day of Pesach, Shavuos will be on the same day as the second day of Pesach, etc.

The connection of Pesach to Tishah BeAv reveals the aspect of the future redemption, for the descent of galus associated with Tishah BeAv really leads to the complete redemption which is an extension of Pesach.

The connection of the Aleph with the Tav in “A’t “B’ash also indicates the aspect of teshuvah which supersedes the normal step-by-step progression and leaps from Aleph to Tav in one quantum leap of teshuvah.

This year Tishah BeAv, and Pesach fall on Tuesday — which is the day that has the double blessing of “that it is good.” This, too, carries the promise of the good that will emerge — a double goodness — the fasts will be converted to days of rejoicing. This point comes across right at the beginning of the Three Weeks when the 17th of Tammuz falls on Tuesday.

To bring this all about in reality man must first function in this manner. We must deal not only with lofty matters but also with lowly matters to raise the lowest to the highest.

In his own Divine service man must strive for the state of repentance which rectifies the negative aspects and supplements the insufficient aspects. Contemplate that which is lacking and see where to improve.

Similarly, reach out to others who are at the nadir, not by their own volition — for they are children who have been lost in captivity among the gentiles, and are ignorant of their essence. Do not be overwhelmed by their lowly state, rather put your effort into extracting them from captivity and returning them to their original state.

This too is hinted at in Pinchas as Rashi explains:

Because the tribes spoke disparagingly of him, saying, “Have you seen this grandson of Puti the father of whose mother used to fatten calves for idolatrous sacrifices and he has dared to slay a prince of one of Israel’s tribes!” Therefore Scripture comes and connects his genealogy with Aharon. (Rashi, Bamidbar 25:11)

This means that Pinchas had both extremes: his grandfather fattened calves for pagan sacrifices and at the same time his pedigree came from Aharon the Kohen — the highest state. For this reason Pinchas could descend so low by killing Zimri and his cohort and be zealous, and jealous for G‑d, and bring the Jewish people to teshuvah. Here his actions paralleled those of Yosef who stopped his evil inclination, as the Tzemach Tzedek explained concerning Yosef, even one who is in the state of “Acher” (another), can be brought close and made a son.

Actually, Yisro himself, who did fatten calves for pagan worship, studied all the religious of the day and thereby came to the realization that:

Now I know that G‑d is the greatest of all deities. (Shmos 18:11)

This subsequently enriched the Jewish people, for Yisro came to accept Torah, and Chassidus explains that his acceptance of Torah served as a preparation for Matan Torah, so that eventually he added a chapter to Torah.

This involvement with purifying the world applies also to the nations of the world, as we see from the Sukkos sacrifices which were offered in honor of the 70 nations of the world (for atonement, peace and prosperity). The ultimate goal is reached on the eighth day when the Jewish people and the King unite above all earlier levels.

During the “Three Weeks” our work in all areas of Torah and Yiddishkeit must increase; in that way we will bring the true and complete redemption. And these days will be holidays. Increase Torah study about the Beis HaMikdash, expound your tzedakah, ransom those who are captive so as to return the lost children to their Father in Heaven. Then we will attain “Truth and peace” — Ahavas Yisrael and Jewish unity — for all will stand united and holy before G‑d.

Remember education, since schools are closed and the time for Torah study is no longer mandatory; the Jewish children are captive, we must redeem them with tzedakah.

Tziyon will be redeemed with justice and her returnees with charity. (Yeshayahu 1:27)

See that they attend Torah camps where they will be in the atmosphere of holiness 24 hours a day so that they will be in a place that is a dwelling for the Shechinah. Your work in this areas must increase so that if last year you influenced and helped 10 children attend camp — this year make it 20!

Sorry to say, we see so many Jewish children roaming around with no spiritual direction and guidance. If you see such a child it is a sign that you must influence him/her.

If this is all “new” to you — well — to bring the “new” redemption and the “new” Torah there must be “new” work on your part, you can alter your habits in a moment and start working to enroll children in summer camps. I seek not meetings or committees, just action, let everyone start being involved in such a way that he/she will be able to say, “See these are the children I have brought close to proper Jewish education in the summer of 5747.”

May G‑d grant that through our actions and endeavors in all these matters, including the “truth and peace,” the “covenant of peace,” we will merit to hear the tidings of redemption, for Pinchas is Eliyahu who will announce the coming of Dovid Mashiach:

The voice heralds: “There has appeared a man his name is Tzemach, it is Dovid himself.” (Siddur, Hosha’anos)

May it all be speeded up so that we may speak in past tense: “Eliyahu already came yesterday to the high court.” (Eruvin 43b)

So that these days will have been days of joy and rejoicing and holidays, the ultimate joy of the tenth song of praise (Mechilta, Beshallach 15:1), at that time there will also be the tenth census which involves uplifting, with eternal joy upon their heads.

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2. Let us discuss a Rashi in our portion on the subject of the census, since the census indicated the praise of the Jewish people as Rashi teaches: “Because they were dear to Him, He counts them every now and then.” (Bamidbar 1:11)

On the first verse dealing with the census in the portion of Pinchas the Torah says:

Reuven was Israel’s first born. The descendants of Reuven were Chanoch, the family of the Chanochites (Hachanochi). (Bamidbar 26:5)

Rashi cites two words and comments:

The Family of the Chanochites (Hachanochi) — Because the heathen nations spoke slightingly of Israel, saying, “How can these trace their descent by their tribes? Do they think that the Egyptians did not overmaster their mothers? If they showed themselves master of their bodies, it is quite certain that they did so over those of their wives!” On this account G‑d set His name upon them, the letter “Hay” on one side of their name and the letter “Yud” on the other side (Hachanochi) to intimate: “I bear testimony for them that they are the seed of their reputed fathers (and not of the Egyptians).” This it is that is expressed by Dovid: “That the tribes bear the name of the L‑rd is a testimony regarding Israel.” On this account in the case of all of them it is written Hachanochi, Hapaluce, but in the case of Yimnah it was not felt necessary to state “of the family of Hayimini, because the Divine Name is already attached to it — the Yud at the beginning and the Hay at the end. (Rashi, loc. cit.)

The question has been raised, why must Rashi say, “that is expressed by Dovid?” It would have sufficed simply to quote the verse from Tehillim which is Rashi’s usual practice. What is added when we know this to be said by Dovid?

Several other points need further clarification

A — Rashi cites not only the word Hachanochi but also the word “Mishpachas — the family of.” Clearly the testimony given by the name of G‑d was not necessary for Chanoch himself, only for his later progeny — the family of Chanoch.

B — In G‑d’s name the “Yud” precedes the “Hay,” yet G‑d placed the “Hay” at the beginning and the “Yud” at the end, in reverse order. Rashi alludes to this when he speaks of Yimnah and says G‑d’s name was not added because it has a Yud at the beginning and a Hay at the end — here G‑d’s name is in proper order.

This past week we observed the yahrzeit of the Or HaChayim HaKadosh and in his commentary on 25:17: “Attack the Midyanites and smite them,” he questions the double phraseology “attack” and “smite.” This question seems to be asked in the simple meaning of the verse, why does Rashi ignore this question?

There is another Rashi which needs further study.

The name of the Israelite who was smitten — wherever it gives the genealogy of a good man in praise of him, it gives the genealogy of a bad man (mentioned in the same story) to disparage him. (Rashi, Bamidbar 25:14)


A — Why must we give the genealogy to disparage a person?

B — What disparagement is there in the name “Zimri son of Salu, a prince of Shimon’s paternal line” (Ibid.)?

C — Rashi goes on to say, “another explanation...this is stated to tell the praiseworthiness of Pinchas: that although this man was a prince he did not refrain from showing zeal against the profanation of the Divine Name — on this account Scripture tells you who it was (a prince!) that was smitten by him!”

When Rashi brings this second explanation it becomes more puzzling why he should speak critically of the evil person? And why speak negatively at all when it is possible to explain that the verse is praising Pinchas?

Why indeed is it necessary to offer two possible answers? It is Rashi’s custom to cite two explanations only when he feels the first to be insufficient or difficult, even though it is closer to the plain meaning of the verse.

The story of Pinchas’s zealousness took place at the close of the portion of Balak — and it would seem logical that the name of the person who was executed by Pinchas should be noted there in Balak.

In the portion of Pinchas we speak of the praise of Pinchas and the reward of “the covenant of peace” given to him by G‑d. If so, why mention the name of Zimri in the portion of Pinchas, it should be recorded in Balak? This is Rashi’s paradox and he attempts to answer this question by explaining that in fact the name of the evil person is mentioned here to add to the praise of the righteous person, for by emphasizing that such a person was evil and that the righteous person dealt zealously with him — you increase the praise of the Tzaddik.

What shame is there in listing the name of the genealogy of the wicked one. Here Rashi relies on the memory of the five-year-old Chumash student. We learned in Vayechi that Yaakov prayed that his name would not be included in the genealogy of the wicked. Thus, when we see here that Yaakov’s name is not mentioned in the genealogy it emphasized the shame of the wicked.

Rashi, however, is not completely satisfied, because although we have added praise to the name of Pinchas by listing the genealogy of Zimri (by showing that he was evil, the son of evil) we have also added more shame to Zimri, and although Zimri was punished we have not removed the shame in his genealogy. Therefore, Rashi brings the second explanation which says that the reason for listing Zimri’s father was only to show that he was in fact a prince and that Pinchas did not hesitate to kill a prince when the sanctification of G‑d’s Name was involved.

It should also be noted that Torah relates about Shimon: “instruments of crime are their weapons,” (Bereishis 49:5) as we saw in the case of Shechem — and despite this, when Pinchas killed Zimri the Prince of Shimon he risked his life to sanctify G‑d’s Name.

Despite all this Rashi feels that the first explanation is the closest to the plain meaning of Scripture and will be easiest to understand for the five-year-old Chumash student.

The question of the Or HaChayim is actually not applicable to Rashi, for in the plain meaning of the words we can discern a difference between “Tzaror” which Rashi translates “show enmity to them,” and “smite them” which clearly indicates all out war. The five-year-old Chumash student will also find this double terminology used later: “Do not attack Moab and do not provoke them to fight,” (Devarim 2:9) and other examples where two levels of action are indicated.

When Rashi cites the author of a particular commentary he usually does so for a reason — to answer the question of an especially astute student. In our case the sharp student will challenge Rashi and say, “How does Rashi bring a verse from Tehillim to answer the taunts of the gentiles who lived hundred of years before, at the time of the Exodus?!”

Of course the answer to the taunting gentiles was in the fact that G‑d added His name to the tribal names — and this fact was made known to the gentile nations at that time! It was then further clarified in the words of Dovid HaMelech: “That the tribes bear the name of the L‑rd is a testimony regarding Israel.” Why did Dovid feel it necessary to explain this if in fact the non-Jews knew this long before his time? So Rashi tells us it was Dovid who made this statement. Remember, that when Dovid was being chosen as king there were those who questioned his pedigree, for he came from the family of Rus the Moavite proselyte. To that charge Avner answered that only a male Amonite and Moavite were excluded from adopting Judaism, but not a female Moavite. It therefore is appropriate in the case of this type of innuendo, for Dovid HaMelech to be the one to tell the world that the Jewish people were in fact pure and holy.

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3. Pirkei Avos begins with a general statement by way of introduction to all the dicta of the Tannaim in the following chapters:

Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on the Yehoshua; Yehoshua to the Elders; the Elders to the Prophets; and the Prophets passed it on to the Men of the Great Assembly. (Avos 1:1)

This represents the chain of tradition that the Torah was passed from generation to generation without interruption.

One point which is implicit in this chain is the uninterrupted continuity, from Moshe who received the Torah from Sinai, to all the later generations with no breaks in-between.

The Rambam emphasizes this point in his introduction to Mishneh Torah and concludes that from R. Ashi to Moshe there were 40 generations and since Moshe received the Torah from the Omnipotent One, therefore all the generations likewise received the Torah from G‑d. The Alter Rebbe also writes that in contemporary times all the rulings of the Gaonim and codifiers are considered as Mishnah.

As the Mishnah continues: “They said three things: ...raise up many disciples....” (Ibid.) This means not only in quantity but also in quality, in the course of the continuity and transmission of Torah without interruption to the end of time — with absolute continuousness.

Later, in the first chapter we come to the dictum, “Provide yourself with a teacher,” (Mishnah 6) which is again repeated in Mishnah 16. We have previously discussed the different applications of this teaching regarding self and others.

It is appropriate now to encourage everyone to be zealous and diligent in carrying out this teaching, for it is of utmost importance. The intention is not just to appoint a Rav-teacher for yourself and then to continue following your previous conduct which may not be proper: “For he may rationalize and say, ‘I will have peace, even if I do as I see fit.’ (Devarim 29:18) And since he has already acted in this manner, when he continues to do so, he continues to draw his soul away from G‑dliness.”

Does he fool the people by hiding his actions — he only fools himself and as the Rebbe Maharash said: “It’s no trick to fool a fool.”

This is why you need to provide yourself with a teacher who will watch over your conduct and to whom you will submit and follow his directives.

May we no longer have to speak of unhappy things for they will be nullified and from now on let us speak only of doing more good. And may we conclude with good blessings physically and spiritually. And the complete and true redemption through our righteous Mashiach speedily and truly in our days.

4. In the Rambam Laws of the Temple Utensils he discusses the laws of the Breastplate — the Urim VeTumim. In this week’s portion the Torah tells us:

Let him stand before Elazar the priest, who shall seek the decision of the Urim before G‑d on his behalf. (Bamidbar 27:21)

The Rambam rules:

How does one ask of the Urim, the Kohen must stand facing the front of the Holy Ark, and the one who places the question stands behind him facing the back of the Kohen. (Laws of Temple Utensils 10:11)

This presents us with a serious question which to date I have not found discussed. The Holy Ark was in the Holy of Holies; if the Kohen faced the front of the Ark he had to stand inside the Holy of Holies! This means that the Kohen Gadol could enter the Holy of Holies during the year — not only on Yom Kippur — and also when he was wearing the usual eight garments including the Breastplate, not only when he wore the white garments of Yom Kippur!?

Most perplexing is the additional fact that the questioner would have to enter the Holy of Holies together with the Kohen Gadol (when the question would be necessary for the entire Jewish people), this is normally unheard of!? The questioner need not even be a kohen and would still have to stand directly behind the Kohen Gadol in the Holy of Holies.

This system of presenting questions to the Urim VeTumim seems to be the normal procedure according to the Rambam. At the same time we know there were instances recorded in Tenach where the Urim VeTumim was queried outside the Holy of Hollies and even outside the Beis HaMikdash.

For example, the division of Eretz Yisrael to the paternal families was done according to the lottery, and according to the Urim VeTumim. The Gemara states:

Elazar wore the Urim VeTumim, and Yehoshua and all of Israel stood before him. (B. Basra 122a)

It would be absurd to say that the whole nation entered the Holy of Holies with the Kohen Gadol!

Similarly, when Dovid was in Keilah and Ziklag he asked the Urim VeTumim:

And Dovid said to Aviasar the Kohen...”bring me now the Ephod”...and Dovid enquired of the L‑rd saying.... (Shmuel I 30:7-8)

In both of these cases the Urim VeTumim was asked outside of Yerushalayim, in Keilah and in Ziklag.

Yet at the same time when the query was done in the Temple the Kohen Gadol and the one who asked entered the Holy of Holies!

Another question now presents itself, why did the Rambam not give further instructions as to the necessary preparations for this entry into the Holy of Holies? What about immersion in mikveh, and washing of the hands — special offerings, etc.? For we speak not of some rare occasion since the Urim VeTumim was often presented with important questions concerning the Jewish people. And since the Rambam does include in his work certain laws which will apply only when the Beis HaMikdash will be rebuilt we cannot argue here that there is no need to describe events of the distant past. For when Mashiach comes we will have many questions to put to the Urim VeTumim.

Even though in the future there will be no more war hence no need to ask whether to attack or not — in fact the swords will be beaten into plough shares — and even the Rambam holds that in the second stage of the Messianic period there will be changes in natural phenomenon so that war will no longer be a human endeavor; still there will be a lot to ask.

The answer to this question could be that the Rambam did not rule any halachah if he did not find its source in the Talmud, et al. And on this subject we find no place in Talmudic literature where these rules are delineated.