Fulfilling Mitzvot With Your Entire Being
It is written, “Israel settled in Shittim, and the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moab” (Bamidbar 25:1). It is also written, “Pinchas the son of Elazar, the son of Aaron the kohen saw, and he stood up from amid the assembly and took a spear in his hand” (v.7). On the words, “[he] took a spear,” the Zohar states that the term romach (“spear”) alludes to the 248 (ramach) limbs of man (Zohar III:237a). When Pinchas aroused himself with zeal for Hashem, he went into action with all 248 of his limbs.
This presents a problem, for books of Mussar and Chassidut tell us that every mitzvah which a person does must be performed with all 248 limbs and 365 sinews. In fact the 248 limbs correspond to the 248 positive commandments, and the 365 sinews correspond to the 365 negative commandments (Makkot 23b), which together comprise the 613 commandments. The mitzvah of sukkah, which we accomplish with all of our 248 limbs and 365 sinews – since we enter the sukkah with our entire bodies, and even with our clothes – constitutes a lesson for all Torah mitzvot, one that teaches us to perform them with our entire being. Yet in that case, why did Pinchas only arouse his 248 (ramach) limbs when he was enflamed with zeal for Hashem? Why did he not include his 365 sinews as well? The truth is that he actually did perform this mitzvah with his 365 sinews as well, something alluded to in the words “[he] took a spear beyado [in his hand].” Here the term beyado seems redundant, for it would have been difficult for Pinchas to take a spear with his feet. Hence why tell us that he took it “in his hand”? It is because the term beyado has the same numerical value (counting the term itself) as gido (“his sinew”) – thus alluding to the 365 sinews. Hence he “took a romach [spear] beyado [in his hand]” – romach for his 248 limbs, and beyado for his 365 sinews.
This represents a very great principle, meaning that we must literally grab hold of every mitzvah and fulfill it with our entire being. This is something of paramount importance in serving G-d. It is also something that is difficult to do, for by nature every person is proud, and if he fails to nullify his pride and does not submit to Hashem before fulfilling a mitzvah, he will fulfill it incompletely, for he will not have performed it with his entire being. In order to nullify the pride that is in his heart, a person must correctly prepare himself to fulfill a mitzvah. In this way, he will know before Whom he is standing, and he will deeply humble himself. In the opposite case, he will not be able to properly fulfill a mitzvah because of the pride that dwells within him. How do we prepare ourselves correctly? We can imagine an alcoholic when he sees wine: As soon as he catches a glimpse of it, he can no longer divert his thoughts from drinking. Nothing will be able to distract him, and he will find no rest until he drinks some.
The same applies to the spiritual realm. When someone readies himself to fulfill a mitzvah, as soon as he begins preparing himself, he will no longer divert his attention from it for anything in the world. All his thoughts will be focused solely on fulfilling the mitzvah at hand until he has done so, for only in this way – in thinking about what he has to do – will he know why he does it. Then his heart will automatically be filled with humility, and he will carry out the mitzvah with his entire being.
If we are correct in this regard, it would seem that this constituted the difference between Avraham and Bilam. They apparently did the very same thing, insofar as they both rose in the morning to prepare for a mitzvah. To prepare himself for the sacrifice of Isaac, as Hashem had commanded him, Abraham “rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey” (Bereshith 22:3). Likewise, Bilam “rose in the morning and saddled his she-donkey” (Bamidbar 22:21), for he was leaving to bless the Children of Israel.
Nevertheless, Bilam’s blessings are considered useless words, for he did not sincerely bless them. Rather, he blessed them just so he could show the Holy One, blessed be He, that he wanted the good of Israel. In his heart, however, Bilam despised them.
The difference between the two of them is that Abraham rose early in the morning to prepare for a mitzvah that G-d had given him. He knew that in order to carry out Hashem’s will by sacrificing his son Isaac, he had to greatly prepare himself. Hence he did not turn his focus away from the mitzvah for an instant. In fact when the angel wanted to prevent him from slaughtering Isaac, he had to tell Abraham: “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, nor do anything against him” (Bereshith 22:12). This was because Abraham was so intent on carrying out the mitzvah that nothing seemed capable of stopping him.
Such was not the case with Bilam. When he rose in the morning to go and bless the Jewish people, he had no intention of blessing them properly. This is because his blessings were not considered genuine blessings, but rather words said in vain. This is because they were not said sincerely and wholeheartedly, but against his will. When he went to bless the Jewish people, he did not really go to bless them, but to infuse hatred for them into the hearts of the other nations.
We must be very careful not to resemble Bilam in this regard. Because of our numerous sins, we see people who get up in the morning and proceed with vigor to synagogue, where they don tallit and put on tefillin. We may think that there is no greater preparation for prayer, but in the final analysis such people allow themselves to speak Lashon Harah and utter useless words. How does this happen?
We must realize that their preparation for the mitzvah of prayer was not perfect. They were not focused on it, which is why they failed. If they had correctly focused on prayer, without turning their attention from it, they would certainly not have demonstrated such failings, and instead they would have prayed and fulfilled mitzvot correctly.
Hence it was crucial for Pinchas to prepare himself with all his 248 limbs and 365 sinews in order to accomplish the mitzvah of zeal for Hashem, without any jealously or personal pride entering his heart. Pinchas therefore arose amid the community, took a spear in his hand, saw the act, and remembered the Halachah. We may think that his intention was to teach a Halachah before his teacher, in which case he would have lost the reward of his mitzvah. We are therefore told that Pinchas acted with all his 248 limbs and 365 sinews, solely for Hashem.