Rabbi David Lapin of I-Awaken on Pinchas: What Are You willing To Sacrifice?

Jul 11th, 2011 by admin in Spiritual Growth
The opening passage of the Parsha holds the key to understanding courage. Zimri desecrated G-d’s name by publicly flaunting his illicit relationship with the Midianite Princess, Kozbi bat Tzor. Pinchas reacts passionately and in accordance with the Halachah of that time, assassinates Zimri and kills Kozbi. Hashem responds by rewarding Pinchas with an everlasting Brit Shalom (Covenant of Peace) manifesting in the hereditary rights of Kehuna. From now on Pinchas and his male descendants would be Kohanim. Rashi and others ask if Pinchas was already a Kohen, the grandson of Aharon the Kohen Gadol, what was new in this “gift” of Kehuna that G-d now gave him? Rashi answers that Kehuna had only been given to Aharon and to Aharon’s sons (and their descendants) who were anointed at that time with Aharon. But since Pinchas was already born but was not anointed, he in fact did not become a Kohen until this moment.The Zohar however says that a Kohen who murders, loses his status and rights of Kehuna. The Sefat Emet[1] points out accordingly that Pinchas had lost his Kehuna when he killed Zimri, and G-d returned it to him as a reward for his intervention in the Zimri affair. Pinchas sacrificed his life (Zimri would have been fully entitled to kill Pinchas in self defense – that was a risk Pinchas took) and his Kehuna. He had no idea that Hashem would return it to him; he assumed it would be lost forever. He was willing to lose his Kehuna to do what was right. His reward lay exactly in the things he sacrificed: He was given eternal life (Pinchas is Eliyahu Hanavi who never died), and he and his descendants are given back the Kehuna they lost.

The fear of loss precludes courage: Herein lies the foundation of courage: So long as people fear loss they will lack courage. We have courage when we are willing to surrender our attachments to everything except our own souls. People who are inextricably attached to their physical lives, will not risk their lives for anything. People who are attached to relationships in ways they could never sever, will never risk them. People attached to power, will compromise their values to retain their power, and people attached to material belongings will never act in ways that could risk the loss of those belongings. The capacity to detach is the condition for courage. The idea in Mussar that best expresses detachment, is Perishut.

Detachment does not mean disengagement: Perishut does not mean disengagement, it means surrendering dependency. A person can be deeply engaged in a relationship, but not be attached to it in a needy or addictive manner. While the relationship exists he or she is fully committed to it and engaged in it. But should the need arise to take a stand on a matter of principle bigger even than the relationship itself, they will not hesitate to put that cause before the relationship. That is courage. The military hero, who has left a loving family at home as he goes into battle to protect his land and his nation, will sacrifice his relationship if that is what is needed for the safety of his land. That does not mean that he does not love his family, nor that he is not entirely committed to them. It simply means he is not attached to them in a way that would make it impossible for him to detach if need be, to do what is right.People who risk their status and influence to make a moral stand, have courage. People who sacrifice their popularity to talk the truth, have courage. People who sacrifice their wealth for the education of their children or to go on Aliyah, have courage. People who fight or whose children fight on our behalf in the Israeli army have courage: they risk, and sometimes sadly give, their lives for us. That does not mean that those people do not value their status, popularity, wealth or children’s lives. It just means they are not inextricably attached to those things, and if absolutely necessary would sacrifice them for a higher purpose.

The reward for sacrifice

The outcome of acting with courage is so interesting and counter-intuitive. We learn from the story of Pinchas that courageous people gain exactly what they sacrificed, but in a higher dimension. People that sacrifice status for a higher purpose, ultimately gain honor: sometimes honor in the eyes of others, sometimes they experience that honor only in their own eyes. The wealth gained from educated children exceeds the wealth of the money invested in that education. Even heroic soldiers who die al Kiddush Hashem (for the sanctification of G-d’s name[2]) and their parents who have sacrificed their sons, achieve an eternity in this world and the next to which no one else can aspire.

Growth manifests in diminishing attachments

As we evolve spiritually, increasing our connection with our own Ruchniut (spirituality), we decrease our dependence on all other attachments. It is a little like a child who grows out of his intense attachment to his childhood toys as he grows older. If we are as attached now to the same things we were some years ago, we have failed to grow. Ultimately, as we loosen our attachments (but not our engagement) with more and more of the things around us, we prepare ourselves for the ultimate evolution. An evolution to a state of detachment from everything we knew except our souls and Hashem. If we die before we detach, the pain of separation is severe.

The Three Weeks and Tisha Be’Av

Sometimes we detach from the things we are meant never to be detached from. Sometimes we feel detached from our own souls, sometimes even from Hashem. Many people wonder why they do not genuinely feel pain and sorrow during the Three Weeks or even on Tisha Be’Av. It is because they are detached from the idea of the Beit Hamikdash, and so do not feel its loss. That is misplaced courage! During these weeks we try to gain a deeper feeling of the glamour and majesty of life with the Temple and the tragedy of Jewish life without it. Then we feel the loss. Then we experience the pain.This is a time to experience loss for more than the Beit Hamikdash. During these hard Three Weeks we are all too aware of the millions of courageous people who sacrificed their lives for Hashem, the Torah and the Jewish people. Some had no choice but others willingly chose to sacrifice their lives rather than lose their souls. They are the heroes of this period. They valued their lives but were not so attached to life that they could not sacrifice it for something bigger: the eternity of the Torah and the Jewish people. Those men and women, like Pinchas, teach us courage.


[1] Pinchas, 5641

[2] The Torah allows us to risk our lives (even for G-d) only in vary rare circumstances. In the case of military activity we may only do so only to defend our religion, our people or our land when their survival is threatened. This is a very opposite philosophy from that which drives the actions of Islamic Fundamentalist extremists.

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