Making and Unmaking Distinctions

Parshas Pinchas begins with G‑d’s statement:1 “Pinchas, the son of Elazar... turned back My rage... by his zealousness for My sake.... Behold, I am granting him My covenant of peace, an eternal covenant of priesthood.”

With the phrase “an eternal covenant of priesthood,” G‑d implied that Pinchas’s descendants would also be priests.

G‑d had already given the priesthood to Aharon and his sons Elazar and Isamar as a hereditary distinction. Nevertheless, only the children born to Elazar and Isamar after they had been installed as priests were granted this status. Pinchas was born before the Sanctuary was erected and was not installed as a priest together with Aharon and his sons. Therefore, until he killed Zimri, he was not considered a priest.2

This raises a question. Divine service warrants reward; the greater the service, the greater the reward. But the priesthood is not a reward. Instead, it is a part of the inherent nature of Aharon and his descendants. By having Aharon anointed as a priest, G‑d differentiated between them and the rest of the Jewish people, as it is written:3 “And He distinguished Aharon, to sanctify him and his descendants as most sacred forever.”

If a person does not descend from Aharon, he is not a priest. There is no Divine service which can cause this status to be conveyed upon him. As Rashi states:4

The Holy One, blessed be He, established distinctions within His world. Just as one cannot turn morning into evening, so too [the priesthood] cannot be nullified. Thus it is written:5 “And G‑d distinguished between light and darkness....” and it is written:3 “And He distinguished Aharon....”

Just as the differences between night and day are part of the natural structure of the world, so too the priesthood is an inherent element of nature. Accordingly, the question arises: Since Pinchas was not a priest, how could this status be conveyed upon him because of his zealousness?

The Connection Between Pinchas and Eretz Yisrael

After this Torah reading completes telling the story of Pinchas, it relates the command to wage war against Midian, and orders a census because of the Jews who died in the plague. It then speaks about the division of Eretz Yisrael and the appointment of Yehoshua as the leader who will guide the Jews into the Holy Land. At the conclusion of the Torah reading, the order of sacrificial offerings is described. There is a connection between these offerings and the entry into Eretz Yisrael, because certain sacrifices, e.g., the two loaves of bread offered on Shavuos, certain of the communal sacrifices, and the wine libations,6 could be performed only in the Holy Land.7

Our Sages state8 that if the Jews had not sinned, their first entry into Eretz Yisrael would have initiated the Era of the Redemption. Even though the Redemption did not actually take place at that time, there are parallels between the entrance into Eretz Yisrael and the Future Redemption.9

This helps us understand the connection between the entry into Eretz Yisrael and Pinchas. For Pinchas is identified with Eliyahu,10 the prophet who will announce the Redemption.

When the Master Is Revealed

In the Era of the Redemption, the Or Ein Sof, G‑d’s infinite light, will be revealed in an overt manner, as alluded to in the prophecy:11 “No longer shall your Master conceal Himself.”

In the present era, G‑d’s light is covered in veils which limit its revelation. In the Era of the Redemption, by contrast, the essence of the light will be revealed. This light will transcend the limits of the spiritual cosmos.

Our array of spiritual potentials parallel those which exist on the mystic plane. Just as there is a light that is limited by the spiritual cosmos, and another which transcends those limits, there are two levels within our souls: One refers to the soul as it enclothes itself in our conscious powers. This level has four mediums of expression (nefesh, ruach, neshamah, and chayah) which parallel the spiritual worlds of Asiyah, Yetzirah, Beriah, and Atzilus.

And then there is a level of soul which transcends all our powers, the level of yechidah. This level is at one with G‑d in His manifestation as yochid, “the singular One” — a level that transcends the spiritual cosmos.

To draw down this level into the world, our Divine service must tap that part of the soul which transcends our conscious powers.12

This is the intent of our Sages’ statement:13 “If Israel turns to G‑d in teshuvah, she will be redeemed. If not, she will not be redeemed.” By adding the second clause, our Sages emphasized that teshuvah alone will spark the coming of the Redemption. The rationale for this is not merely that our sins prevent the Redemption from being manifest. Instead, the intent is to emphasize that the Redemption requires teshuvah as a catalyst. In the Era of the Redemption,G‑d’s singular Oneness will be manifest throughout existence. In order to draw down this level, teshuvah is necessary.

For teshuvah has the potential to wash away all the blemishes caused by sin.14 These blemishes affect the conscious powers of the soul. When a Jew is motivated by teshuvah, he taps the level of yechidah, and this enables him to transcend his own limitations and rectify all blemishes.

Precipitating the Redemption

The level of yechidah which surpasses our conscious powers is expressed through mesirus nefesh, self-sacrifice, a commitment that transcends the bounds of reason. For reason cannot explain true self sacrifice. Some exert themselves because of the promise of reward, but true self-sacrifice is above such thoughts, and indeed cannot be comprehended at all. The potential for such self-sacrifice comes from the level of yechidah.

This also explains why in the present era — the time of ikvesa diMeshicha, when Mashiachs approaching footsteps can already be heard — our Divine service requires self-sacrifice. For the intent is to tap the power of yechidah, and in this manner precipitate the revelation of G‑d’s singular oneness at the time of the coming of Mashiach.

As explained in Tanya,15 mesirus nefesh was always a necessary element of our Divine service. Indeed, the totality of our Divine service depends on it. For this reason, the generation that entered Eretz Yisrael was commanded to recite the Shema (with its commitment to mesirus nefesh) twice a day, despite the fact that the nation had already been promised:16 “G‑d will place your fear and your dread upon the entire land.”

On a day-to-day level, however, the observance of the Torah and its mitzvos in those days did not require mesirus nefesh. The Jews’ mesirus nefesh represented merely a potential commitment. As such, they drew down the level of yechidah (mesirus nefesh) as it is enclothed in the other four levels of the soul, and which are given expression in the observance of the Torah and its mitzvos.

In the era of ikvesa diMeshicha, by contrast, actual mesirus nefesh is required to give unveiled expression to the level of yechidah within our souls and thus precipitate the unveiled revelation of G‑dliness within the world.

Self-Sacrifice that Knows No Bounds

There are also levels within mesirus nefesh itself. Sometimes a person makes a commitment of self-sacrifice, but the commitment is limited.He consults the Shulchan Aruch to see whether he is obligated to sacrifice himself for any particular matter.

A true commitment of mesirus nefesh, however, involves devotion to G‑d without any restraints — a commitment that transcends all reason and logic.

This level of mesirus nefesh was revealed by Pinchas. He was not required to risk his life in this instance. If he had asked a court, it would not have commanded him to take action.17 For in such a situation, the court does not give the directive:18 “The zealous may strike him.”19 By acting, Pinchas thus expressed true mesirus nefesh.

This reflects the connection between Pinchas and the future Redemption. For the future Redemption will be brought about through this type of self-sacrifice, a commitment that is unlimited in any form, one which expresses the level of yechidah which in turn will reveal yochid, G‑d’s singular oneness.

Fusing Opposites

With regard to the prophecy of the Redemption:20 “I will make your windows21 of gems,” The Talmud states:22 “One23 interpreted this as referring to rubies, and one to jasper. The Holy One, blessed be He, says: ‘I will satisfy both views.’”

A ruby is a red jewel, indicative of energy drawn down from Above. Jasper is a sparkling gem which reflects light so brightly that it can blind,24 alluding to the rebounding light (or chozer) generated by our efforts to refine worldly existence.

This is the core of the difference of opinion as to whether the revelations of the future Redemption will follow the pattern of drawing down energy from above or will be precipitated by the refinement and elevation of the world. G‑d says: “I will satisfy both views,” for the future Redemption will combine both thrusts.25

The difference between these two thrusts can be explained as follows. Light which is drawn down from above has no constraints, while the light which is generated by the refinement of the material plane is proportionate to our Divine service, and is thus limited.

But there is an advantage to the light generated by our own efforts. When light is drawn down from above, independent of the efforts of man, it will not necessarily be internalized within the world, for the world has not been made ready to accept it. Instead, the light shines in an encompassing manner.

When, however, the light is generated by man’s efforts to elevate the world, material reality will have become a medium in which G‑dly light can be internalized.

The uniqueness of the Era of the Redemption is that it will combine both qualities. G‑dly light will be revealed as it is, with no constraints. Indeed, the light will be so transcendent that it cannot be drawn down through the Divine service of mortals. And yet this light will be internalized by the world.

There has never been such a revelation, nor will there be until the coming of the Redemption. Although the Alter Rebbe writes that a semblance to this event occurred at the giving of the Torah,26 this refers only to the fact of revelation. At the giving of the Torah, as will happen in the Era of the Redemption, an unbounded, transcendent light was revealed. But at that time the world was not refined, and did not become a medium for the light. Therefore, after the revelation at Mount Sinai was complete, the world remained unchanged. The most clear indication of this fact is that directly afterwards, the Jews worshipped the Golden Calf.27

In the Era of the Redemption, however, both thrusts will come to fulfillment. The world will be refined and will therefore be able to internalize the infinite revelations of that era.

These concepts are alluded to in the person of Pinchas, who is identified with Eliyahu, the messenger of redemption. As mentioned above, priesthood is not a quality that can be earned through Divine service. Instead, it is granted from above, defining the nature of a person’s existence. We are thus forced to conclude that even before Pinchas slew Zimri, he was fit for the priesthood. Nevertheless, that characteristic was not expressed until he revealed his zealousness.

Why? Because the intent was that Pinchas reveal his potential through his own Divine service.

This fusion of opposite tendencies is alluded to by G‑d’s statement: “Behold, I am granting him My covenant of peace,” for peace involves the resolution of conflict. Similarly, Pinchas combined revelation from above and his own efforts of refinement, demonstrating within his person a microcosm of the future Redemption. For this reason, Pinchas is identified with Eliyahu.

A Foretaste of the Redemption

A similar fusion of opposites can be expressed in our own Divine service. We must fuse the level of yechidah with our conscious powers, empowering them to internalize the transcendent.28

The intent is not merely to observe the Torah and its mitzvos as they are inspired by the recitation of the Shema, for then a person’s Divine service is carried out with only his conscious powers, and the intensity of mesirus nefesh that stems from the yechidah is concealed within these powers.

Instead, the intent is that throughout the day, a person’s Divine service should pulsate with mesirus nefesh. His yechidah should be manifest, shining as an internalized light and redefining the workings of his conscious powers.

Then both advantages will be attained, for the revelation of the yechidah will be internalized. This is both a foretaste and a preparation for the revelations of the Era of the Redemption.

From Exile to Redemption

In years when the parshiyos Matos and Masei are read together, Parshas Pinchas is the first of the Shabbosos of beyn hameitzarim, the period of mourning for the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. Since all matters are defined by Divine Providence, this indicates that Parshas Pinchas shares a connection to the period of beyn hameitzarim.29

To explain: Directly after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, “the redeemer of Israel was born.”30 This shows that the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash began the process leading to the Redemption.31 And as explained above, the revelations of that era will be associated with the Divine service of Pinchas — the revelation of the yechidah within one’s conscious powers.

This concept is also alluded to at the end of the first of the haftoros read during beyn hameitzarim:32 “Israel is sanctified unto G‑d, the first fruits of His yield. All that devour her will be held guilty. Evil will come upon them.”

When translating literally, the subject of the latter phrases are the gentile nations. For “devouring Israel” they will “be held guilty,” and “evil will come upon them.”

Since the Torah was given to the Jewish people, in addition to its simple meaning, the verse must also contain a directive for our Divine service.33 This directive can be explained as follows: When the Jews sin, those sins devour the spiritual potential of Israel. This can be rectified through a guilt offering, for a guilt offering is associated with the revelation of yechidah.34

This is deduced in the following manner: With regard to the guilt offering, it is written:35 “And one will add its fifth to it.” In terms of our Divine service, this means that the efforts of our four potentials nefesh, ruach, neshamah, and chayah are not sufficient; one must also activate the fifth level: yechidah.36

And attention must be paid to the fact that the verse calls for the fifth to be added “to it,” i.e., yechidah is not revealed as an independent quality, but is fused with the other attributes. This empowers the nefesh, ruach, neshamah, and chayah, charging them with the energy of yechidah.

This is also reflected in the Alter Rebbe’s interpretation33 of the verse:37 “Who can number the seed of Israel?” The Hebrew word for number, mispar, relates to the Hebrew sapir, meaning “brightness” and the word rovah, translated as “seed,” relates to the number four, arbeh in Hebrew. The implication is that the level of yechidah must shine on the four attributes of Israel, the nefesh, ruach, neshamah, and chayah, and be internalized within them, thus heralding the revelations of the Era of the Redemption. May it come soon.