Due to the eighth day of Pesach falling out on Shabbos, Eretz Yisrael and CHU"L will be one parsha off for the next few weeks. I will be following the schedule in Eretz Yisrael. Click here for a Dvar Torah for this week's parsha in CHUL, Parshas Balak
Today, Thursday, is the yartzheit of the Ohr HaChaim, Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar. He is known as one of the most expert commentaries in Jewish History, having authored works on all sections of the Torah, seamlessly weaving Halacha, Kabbalah, and Medrash all together in his comments. In his honor, I decided to give over one of his explanations from this week’s parsha, Parshas Pinchas.
Ironically, the story of Pinchas is really told in last week’s parsha, Parshas Balak. After Balak failed in his plot to curse the Jews, he conspired to have them sin, thereby causing their own downfall. When the Nasi of Shevet Shimon, Zimri, was about to sin with the Midianite princess, Kuzbi, he approached Moshe and dared Moshe to stop him. Moshe was temporarily stunned, when Pinchas stepped in, conferred with Moshe to make sure he was doing the right thing, and immediately killed Zimri and Kuzbi. This week’s parsha picks up the story from there, with Hashem rewarding Pinchas for this act of faith.
The Ohr HaChaim notes that even though the story of Pinchas killing Zimri and Kuzbi appears in Parshas Balak, the Torah doesn’t mention them by name until this week’s parsha. Why would the Torah wait? If the Torah wants to shame them, it should have mentioned their names immediately; and if the Torah doesn’t want to mention them, then don’t mention them at all!
The Ohr HaChaim explains that while there is a need to publicize certain acts of sinners, Hashem has no desire to publicize the sinners themselves. There is no specific reason to mention who performed the sin. (He proves this from the story of the “Wood- Gatherer” whose name is not mentioned; see Bamidbar 15.) Therefore, the names of Zimri and Kuzbi are not mentioned at the time of the sin in Parshas Balak. However, when it comes to praising the acts of tzaddikim, He pulls out all the stops.
What Pinchas did was incredibly risky. He was an unimportant, disgraced person who was mocked by the general public (See Rashi on 25:11). Suddenly, he was confronted with a situation involving one of the most important and dignified people in the Jewish Nation as well as a princess of one of the most powerful nations in the world, not to mention the thousands of people they both had backing them up. And still, he didn’t hesitate for an instant; he killed both of them in the name of Hashem, without regard for the physical danger that it posed to him. In order to fully express the significance of Pinchas’ act and why he received such a great reward, the Torah couldn’t just write that he killed a Jew and a Midianite, like it did in Parshas Balak; it had to say who they were. Only then could the greatness of his act be understood.
The Ohr HaChaim proceeds to give a second explanation. When the Torah tells the story of Pinchas, Zimri and Kuzbi had not yet actually sinned, there was still a chance for Zimri not to sin. As long as that chance existed, even though it was slim that he wouldn’t go through with it, the Torah was not going to embarrass him by writing his name.
With these two explanations, we see two different aspects of the kindness of Hashem. On one hand, He will make sure that a tzaddik gets his due, even going so far as to embarrass another Jew by name. However, at the same time, He will not give up on any Jew for one second, even when it appears that the result is inevitable. To Him, it isn’t inevitable. Every Jew has the ability to do good, even on the edge of evil.
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