Pinchas( Diaspora): Good things, small packages

Israel needs those who bring about change.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch

Judaism Ancient Mosaic Uncovered in Israel
Ancient Mosaic Uncovered in Israel

In early July, 2006, the Second Lebanon War was raging, and the Hirsch family found itself in familiar territory: Camp Moshava, Wild Rose, Wisconsin. I had been camp doctor there for all ten years of the 1980’s, and since my daughter was doing the last month of her Sherut Leumi( Israeli National Service) as a Bnei Akiva camp counselor, we were visiting the camp, after an absence of 17 years. I had been a camper in the 1960’s; my wife had also been a counselor in 1971. It was great to be back, to see the camp and its growth, raft down the Crystal River, and see the next generation of kids; only things missing were Rabbi Moshe (Moish) Kushner, long-time director who had left the camp to head the CRC, and the Swede (“Swenson!”, as Moish would bellow when something went wrong), long-time custodian who had passed on and whose kids were now in charge.

Shabbos came, and they were short Torah readers for Parshat Pinchas, so my son and I each read an Aliyah(section), giving each other hand signals for the T’amim (Trop; musical notes). Then the assistant Rosh Moshava asked me to give a dvar Torah, during the break (Kiddush and cookies; we had little kids, age 10 and up) before Mussaf. As I got up to speak, the Rosh Moshava quickly told me:” Don’t say anything political”.

Typical American Jewry. The year before, Religious Zionists of America had been silent on the evil of the Hitnatkut, the “Disengagement”/eviction of Jews from Gush Katif. The RZA head during those Oslo years had published articles that “we should worry about the welfare of the million Gaza Arabs”; he didn’t waste any inked mercy on the 9,000 Jews whose lives were destroyed by Hitnatkut. A local RZA president told me his chapter could not protest against Disengagement for fear that “political activity might cost us our tax-exempt status”. Arguing that a “Zionist” organization, especially a Religious Zionist one, is inherently political by definition, got nowhere. It seemed that anyone speaking up in favor of Eretz Yisrael and of the country of Israel, was already painted as a fanatic, Kahanist, terrorist, etc.- anything but “patriot”.

So I talked:
“You kids just heard us reading the story of the daughters of Tzlafchad ( Bamidbar ,27; 1-11). The Aznayim L’Torah says that those daughters could have shut up and excused themselves, saying: ’We are just mere women, who are we to get up before Moshe and the leaders of the nation, to complain about not getting a section of the Land of Israel?’. But they did not shut up; they knew that they were right, and they boldly stepped up to the plate at the critical moment (of dividing up the Land).

“This is also a critical moment. Hizbollah is raining missiles down on the North of Israel, from the Lebanon border to the Kinneret. As far south as the city of Teverye (Tiberias), people have evacuated their homes and moved southwards. Fields are empty, there is no one tending crops in the Galilee.

“And with all this going on, the media- CNN, New York Times, LA Times, etc. – are reporting only Arab Lebanese casualties. Not a word in the world’s media of Israeli casualties and financial losses; not a word is said to explain that if Hezbollah’s missiles would stop, this war would immediately be over.

“But you know the truth. Bnei Akiva here at Moshava has told you who is the aggressor, as usual: the Arab- and who is, as usual, the victim: the Jew. You will go home in a few days, and you must spread the truth. You must be like Bnot (daughters of) Tzlafchad, and like Pinchas himself- who also could have excused himself. He too could have said: ‘ Who am I to act against evil, against disgusting behavior( a Jew openly having sex with a non-Jewish woman)?’. But the Torah says he is ‘ Pinchas the son of Elazar ben Aharon the Kohen (Priest)’ Bamidbar 25;11). As a Jew, one is obligated to take a stand for Truth and Good, against evil and Lashon Hara, the language of Evil( media spin, propaganda, etc.). Do not say:’Who am I to talk; I am just a little kid’- No! The Jewish people need every advocate, in every corner of the globe. Go home and speak the truth about this war, that the IDF fights a just, moral cause; that Eretz Yisrael belongs to the Jews, only; and that Israel and the world are facing a barbaric, terror enemy.”

I did merit to get a lot of high-fives from those ten, fourteen and eighteen year olds.

The Aznayim L’Torah adds: that verse-25;11- has a variant spelling of the name Pinchas. In Hebrew, the name appears with an exta small letter, a Yud. The letter Yud is small as it is, normally. Here it is even smaller- to tell us: don’t think you are too small to take a stand. One Pinchas, one daughter of Tzlafchad, one Eliyahu Hanavi, one Mattisyahu HaMakabi- even one Raoul Wallenberg- and one Jewish soldier, can make a big difference. It’s the lesson of the Pintele Yid, the “little Jew”- whose actions can reverberate from one end of the world to another, for all time.

Rav Matis Weinberg finds in this the story of the sun and the moon, at the beginning of Creation. Our Rabbis, in Talmud Chullin 60b, tell us that the Torah (Genesis 1; 16) talks of “the two great luminaries in the sky”, hinting that sun and moon were created equally large. The moon complained, saying that two kings cannot rule one kingdom; thereupon, the Lord told the moon the contract herself and become smaller (becoming the little Yud). The moon complained, with a cry of “No Fair!”. G-d told her that she was right,  but life is not “fair” by non-godly standards; however, to atone, the Jews will “ bring an atonement in G-d’s behalf  for having diminished the moon”.

That kaparah, atonement, is the Musaf sacrifice of Rosh Chodesh, the first day of every month. That is why our Parshah concludes with a list of the year’s Musafim. There is the daily, the routine; that is the Karban Tamid, the daily sacrifice, and daily prayers. That which is routine is the context of our lives: day in, day in, the sun rises and sets, with very little change. That is the Moshe Rabbeinu, “repository of Torah and Halachah”, context to everyday life.

But times evolve. The moon waxes and wanes. Similarly, the nation of Israel today, is not that of Moses’ time- nor that of King David , Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, Rambam or the Gaon of Vilna. Evolving life involves change, and that is the role of Chiddush, and Rosh Chodesh, and Pinchas and the daughters of Tzlafchad. In this Parshah, Moshe hands the reigns as leader to Yehoshua, and that signifies change.

Just as Pinchas was given a covenant of Peace, so too we need both the people of the day in, day out, who are the repository of thousands of years of history and its knowledge; Israel also needs those who push the envelope, the Pinchases, who  based on context, bring about change. The latter are perforce the smaller, but they need to exist and to do their thing. We hope and pray for a covenant of Peace between the two sides.