June 29th 2013

tamuz 21st 5773


The Devotion of Pinchas as Compared to Adam

by Rabbi David Hanania Pinto Shlita

Commenting on the verse, “When Pinchas saw…he arose from amid the assembly and took a spear in his hand” (Bamidbar 25:7), the Gemara explains: “He saw what was happening and remembered the Halachah” (Sanhedrin 82a).

In this regard, we may ask the following questions:

1. What did Pinchas see, and what Halachah did he remember?

2. Our Sages teach that it was on account of the spear which Pinchas held in his hand that the kohanim receive the shoulder as their share from the offerings (Devarim 18:3; Rashi, Sifri 18:46). What connection exists between these two body parts? Finally, the phrase “in his hand” seems redundant, since Pinchas could only hold his spear in his hand.

3. Commenting on the phrase, “[Pinchas] took a spear in his hand,” the Zohar teaches that the numerical value of the name Pinchas (208) is equal to the letters resh (200) and chet (8). When Pinchas saw the letter mem (numerical value: 40) flying in the air (Zohar III:237a), he grabbed hold of it and added it to resh chet, making romach [“spear”] (numerical value: 248). In other words, he used the 248 limbs of his body to fulfill this mitzvah. What happened to his 365 sinews with which mitzvot must also be fulfilled?

4. Commenting on the phrase, “When Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aaron the kohen,” the Gemara asks why the verse connects him to Aaron, and responds by explaining: “The tribes now began abusing him, ‘You see this son of Puti, whose maternal grandfather pitem [fattened] cattle for idols’ ” (Sanhedrin 82b).

5. Why did the tribes humiliate him now, rather than earlier? Did they not know that Pinchas was Aaron’s grandson?

To answer these questions, we must go back to Adam.

We know that when someone fulfills a mitzvah, he should do it with the utmost devotion and without any ulterior motives. One must use all the 248 limbs and 365 sinews of his body, completely annulling his ego, by pouring out his soul and demonstrating the greatest degree of humility. The Holy One, blessed be He, commanded Adam not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, “for on the day that you eat of it, you will surely die” (Bereshith 2:17). The Gemara calls this an easy mitzvah (Shabbat 55b), at least in regards to the first man. Nevertheless, Adam did not control himself, and he ate it. How could this man, this Divine creation (Kohelet Rabba 3:14), not fulfill such an easy mitzvah? Even if it had been a difficult mitzvah, the fact is that he did not adhere to his Creator’s will! On the other hand, since Hashem threatened him with death if he were to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, why did He not carry out His threat right away? Why was Hashem content on simply cursing him, as it is written: “By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread” (Bereshith 3:19)?

The answer is that he ate from the Tree of Knowledge because his wife Eve encouraged him to do so (v.6). Moreover, our Sages teach that a woman is more intuitive than a man (see Bereshith Rabba 18:1), and knows how to influence him. Perhaps she convinced him that eating from the Tree of Knowledge could help him to serve G-d? Thus he may have believed that he could only adhere to G-d’s will, devoting body and soul to the fulfillment of Divine precepts, by eating from the Tree of Knowledge. He was aware of the fact that he was risking death in so doing, but he was ready to literally risk his life in order to serve his Creator in the loftiest possible way, thus putting into practice the saying of Rabbi Yaakov: “A single hour of repentance and good deeds in this world is greater than all of the World to Come” (Pirkei Avoth 4:17).

Nevertheless, as soon as he ate from the Tree of Knowledge and his mind grew sharper, he became aware of his minor importance, as it is written: “And they knew that they were naked” (Bereshith 3:7). The Midrash explains: “They even stripped themselves of the one mitzvah which they possessed” (Bereshith Rabba 19:6). Adam certainly understood that he had transgressed, but he took the decision to conform to G-d’s will from now on, and to taste from the Tree of Life as well. He thus demonstrated tremendous pride, for not only was he not content with breaking the Creator’s will, he dared to ask Him not to be punished! Hashem then expelled him from the Garden of Eden, saying: “Now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the Tree of Life, and eat and live forever” (Bereshith 3:22). He did not sentence him to death, however, for Adam only sought to spiritually elevate himself in doing what he did.

This incident shows us that if we break G-d’s will, even for the sole purpose of spiritually elevating ourselves, we are fulfilling a mitzvah through a sin (Sukkah 30a), something which may lead to other sins. We will then not succeed in increasing our fear of G-d, even if we put an effort into it, and we will have committed a grave sin.

Pinchas saw what Adam did, namely that he increased his fear of G-d. As we saw above, Adam thereby broke G-d’s will and his plan did not succeed. Pinchas remembered the Halachah, which consists precisely of not breaking G-d’s will, even if we seek to increase our faith in so doing. It is forbidden to demonstrate pride and arrogance in order to achieve this. On the contrary, we must demonstrate humility by conforming solely to G-d’s will.

After seeing all this, Pinchas the son of Elazar actively prepared himself to carry out his sublime deed, and he implored G-d for help. He needed an abundance of mercy from Heaven, a real miracle, for as a kohen he was liable to render himself impure by the action he was preparing to undertake (see Sanhedrin 82a). He therefore did what he had to do with the upmost degree of sincerity and devotion, without the slightest trace of pride. He placed a romach (“spear”) beyado (“in his hand”), meaning that he put his 248 limbs into action. Yet what of his shasa gidim (365 sinews)? The term beyado has the same numerical value as gido [“his sinew”] (plus one for the kollel = 23). Thus Pinchas also used his 365 gidim (sinews) with perfect devotion. The kohanim became worthy of receiving the shoulder of an animal that is brought as an offering to G-d because the arm personifies heroism and self-annulment. Furthermore, the terms zeroah and chassid have a combined numerical value of 365, representing the 365 sinews which Pinchas used in taking action bizroah netuyah (“with an outstretched arm”), the numerical value of which is 365. He thereby conformed to the retzon aviv (will of His Father), the numerical value of which is also 365, contrary to Adam, who broke it.

The Holy One, blessed be He, Who probes hearts and minds (Tehillim 7:10), valued the exemplary deed of Pinchas, who turned Divine anger away from the Children of Israel by demonstrating his zeal for G-d (see Bamidbar 25:11). As the Sages say, “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man” (Pirkei Avoth 2:5). By acting in this way, Pinchas certainly put his life in danger, for one who teaches the Halachah before his teachers is liable to the penalty of death (Berachot 31b; Tanchuma, Acharei Mot 6). However in seeing Zimri’s sin, which endangered the entire Jewish people, Pinchas was prepared to risk his life in order to save the Jewish people from extermination.

Contrary to Adam – who committed a very grave sin, was cursed for it, and yet dared to ask for a reward – Pinchas acted solely for the sake of G-d, without asking for even the smallest reward. In fact he asked G-d to help him so that nothing evil would result from his deed. The Holy One, blessed be He, nevertheless gave him a reward and added the letter yud to his name, just as Moshe added the letter hei to the yud of Joshua’s name (thus becoming Y-H, for Moshe prayed: “May Y-H save you from the plan of the spies”). This Name has a numerical value of 15, which is the same as ga’avah (“pride”), from which Hashem wanted to spare Pinchas so he could act solely in G-d’s Name. Thus by increasing His glory, Pinchas would demonstrate his total devotion. This extra yud also allowed Pinchas to never sin again. In fact the numerical value of the name Pinchas (208) is equal to that of ve’ein chet ba’al-yado (“no sin through his hand”). By acting in this way, Pinchas demonstrated chesed, lovingkindness towards the Jewish people. Furthermore, the name Pinchas has the same numerical value as chesed yesovevenu (“surrounding oneself with lovingkindness”).

Pinchas also merited a long life, for the Angel of Death had no power over him (Zohar III:214a), and as we know, Pinchas is Eliyahu (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 47). As opposed to Adam – whose life was shortened “pen [lest] he put forth his hand and take also of the Tree of Life” – Pinchas lives eternally, as we said earlier. This is the meaning of the name Pinchas (“pen-chas”). His pen corrected the pen of Adam, while chas has the same numerical value as chaim (“life”).

All this will help us to better understand the teaching of the Tanna Akavia, son of Mahalalel: “Reflect upon three things and you will not come to the hands of transgression. Know from where you came, where you are going, and before Whom you are destined to give a judgment and accounting” (Pirkei Avoth 3:1). Just asking where you are going – and recalling before Whom you will have to give an accounting – can certainly dissuade a person from sinning. Yet how can just knowing from where you came dissuade a person from sinning? The answer is that it is not enough to recall punishment in order not to sin. We must do everything with the utmost degree of humility (like Pinchas), and not demonstrate the least degree of pride (like Adam). In that case, we will fulfill all the mitzvot with the utmost of perfection. Thus by thinking about where we came from (a putrid drop), we will act with humility and a contrite heart, solely to adhere to the will of our Creator.

“Why did Adam sin?” asks Midrash Pliyah. It is because he saw two; and if he had seen three, he would not have sinned. In other words, the first man did not think about where he came from. In fact he had not been created like all other men after him, from a putrid drop, but was instead the work of G-d’s hands. Adam only reflected upon “where you are going, and before Whom you are destined to give a judgment and accounting.” Hence we may say that he sinned with the utmost devotion, and since he could not reflect upon where he came from, he continued to demonstrate pride and even asked for a reward: To taste from the Tree of Life. The result was that he was punished.

Adam’s sin did not constitute a “descent for the sake of ascent” (Makkot 7b), for even at birth Adam was so perfect a creation, says the Midrash, that the angels mistook him for a divine being and wanted to sanctify him. They had no idea that he could sin, for they knew that his deed was essentially geared to intensifying his service of G-d. That is why the angels asked the Holy One, blessed be He: “Why did You impose the penalty of death upon Adam?” (Shabbat 55b). He replied, “I gave him an easy [kalah] command, and yet he violated it!” In other words, the first man did not come from a putrid drop, and instead of demonstrating humility (kal ve’anav), he grew proud. Since he did not act for the sake of G-d, he merited death.

Pinchas, on the other hand, knew from where he came: From a putrid drop (from Elazar, the son of Aaron the kohen). It was from his grandfather that he inherited humility, as it written: “For what are we?” (Shemot 16:7). Since Pinchas thought of the three things which the Tanna mentioned (cited above), he did not sin.

The tiny yud in the name Pinchas alludes to his humility, and the broken vav in the word shalom (Bamidbar 25:12), may be considered as a regular yud and vav, which together have a numerical value of 16. This is the same value as the initials of chayil bala vayekiyenu (“he devoured wealth, but will disgorge it” – Job 20:15). As we have seen, according to the writings of the holy Arizal, this Name is effective in rectifying blemishes to the sign of the holy covenant. In this regard, kabbalistic writings teach that Adam sinned because he did not wait until Shabbat to cohabit with Eve, which according to the Sages (Bereshith Rabba 18:6) caused the serpent to desire her. Adam thus blemished the sefirah of yesod (sign of the covenant), which encompasses the 613 mitzvot. Instead of attaining shelemut (perfection) – which is shalom (peace), as it is written: “He makes shalom [peace] in His heights” (Job 25:2) – he blemished the sign of the covenant and experienced death. On the other hand, Pinchas did not blemish it (Zohar III:220a), and he turned G-d’s anger away from the Children of Israel. This is why Hashem granted him briti shalom (“My covenant of peace”), the term brit (“covenant”) having the same numerical value (612 plus 1) as taryag (613 mitzvot). He attained abundance and even received the name chavu (on account of the broken vav). He was therefore able to rectify the blemish of Adam.

In fact the Children of Israel, who allowed themselves to pursue falsehood and answer the call of Zimri (who scoffed at Moshe by asking if he was permitted to marry his Midianite wife), did not look upon the deed of Pinchas with favor. They did not explain to Zimri that Moshe had married the daughter of Jethro before the giving of the Torah. Since they demonstrated pride, they humiliated Pinchas by reminding him that he was the son of Puti, meaning that they questioned his lineage – not on the side of Elazar and Aaron – but on the side of Jethro, who had worshipped idols. His complete humility and sincere devotion teach all the generations when to truly grow spiritually, and when to be careful that this growth does not blemish and destroy the foundations of holiness. We learn not to act like Adam when he cut the shoots (i.e., veered from the right path) and experienced death, but rather to emulate Pinchas, who demonstrated zeal for G-d amid the assembly of Israel, and who earned a right to the place reserved for the tzaddikim.

At the Source

For the Sake of Heaven?

It is written, “Therefore say: Behold, I give him My covenant of peace” (Bamidbar 25:12).

Many people make the mistake of believing that zeal for Hashem leads to baseless hatred among brothers and more conflicts among Jews. The gaon Rabbi Yehudah Tsadka Zatzal, the Rosh Yeshiva of Porat Yosef, explains that in reality the exact opposite is true. This is precisely why the Torah tells us, “I give him My covenant of peace.” It was precisely by the merit of his enflamed zeal that peace increased among the people, but only on condition that this zeal is exclusively for the sake of Heaven.

There is no reason to fear such perfect zeal, for it is precisely what increases peace among people and prevents useless quarrels from occurring. Who decides which zeal is truly for the sake of Heaven? It is the Torah scholars and great men of the generation; they are the ones who are fit to determine which kind of zeal is for the sake of Heaven or not.

The Mother of Yocheved

It is written, “The name of Amram’s wife was Yocheved, daughter of Levi, asher yalda ota [who bore] to Levi in Egypt” (Bamidbar 26:59).

The book Toldot Adam recounts that in his youth, the gaon Rabbi Zalman of Vilna heard a very nice explanation for this verse from a certain Torah scholar. This scholar pointed out that the verse does not mention who gave birth to Yocheved, and he cited a Midrash which states that the name of Levi’s wife was “Ota.”

This is what the verse is saying: “The name of Amram’s wife was Yocheved, daughter of Levi, whom ‘Ota’ bore” – meaning that Levi’s wife, whose name was “Ota,” bore him a daughter in Egypt.


It is written, “[The daughters of Zelophehad said:] ‘Our father died in the desert, but he was not among…the assembly of Korach’ ” (Bamidbar 27:3).

In regards to the laws of inheritance, what did it matter if their father was among the assembly of Korach or not?

In his book Avodat HaGershoni, the gaon Rabbi Gershon Ashkenazi Zatzal writes that if their father Zelophehad son of Hefer had been among Korach’s assembly, the daughters of Zelophehad would not have been able to protest by saying: “Either you consider us as sons and we inherit as sons, or our mother marries her brother-in-law through yibum [levirate marriage].” This is because the assembly of Korach descended alive into Sheol, and the Midrash explains that its members are alive to this very day. Thus in any case, there was no way for yibum to take place, for it only takes place “when brothers dwell together and one of them dies” (Devarim 25:5).

This is why the daughters of Zelophehad stressed the fact that their father was not among the assembly of Korach. As a result, their “either…or” argument was valid.

Mount Avarim

It is written, “Ascend this mount Avarim” (Bamidbar 27:12).

Why is this mountain called “Avarim”?

The book Torat Maharitz cites a teaching from the Sages according to which a wicked government once tried to locate the grave of Moshe Rabbeinu. Agents from this government stood at the summit of the mountain and believed that his grave was below. Yet when they went below, they believed that it was above.

As a result, this mountain has the unusual characteristic of appearing to have several different sides (avarim), such that those who are above have the impression that Moshe Rabbeinu’s grave is below, and those who are below, on the slopes of the mountain, have the impression that it is at the summit.

That is why it is called the mount of “Avarim” – in order to fulfill what is written: “No one knows his burial place” (Devarim 34:6).

In the Light of the Parsha

From the Teachings of the Gaon and Tzaddik Rabbi David Pinto Shlita

Everything Pinchas Did was for the Sake of Heaven

It is written, “Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aaron the kohen, has turned away My wrath from the Children of Israel” (Bamidbar 25:11).

The Sages have said (Yerushalmi, Sanhedrin) that everything Pinchas did was solely for Hashem’s sake, offering up his life for the honor of G-d and the sanctity of the camp of Israel. This raises a question: Given that Moshe Rabbeinu, Aaron the kohen, and the 70 elders of Israel were present during this incident, and given that the Sages have said, “One does not teach the Halachah before his teacher” (Yerushalmi, Gittin), how could Pinchas have killed a leader from a tribe of Israel on his own initiative?

There is something even more surprising here, since the Sages say in regards to Pinchas: “He saw what was happening and remembered the Halachah” (Sanhedrin 82a). As a result, why didn’t he remind Moshe Rabbeinu of this Halachah? Pinchas would have then received his permission to go and kill the sinner, without finding himself in the position of someone who “teach[es] the Halachah before his teacher,” the explicit punishment of which is death!

To explain the Sages’ statement that Pinchas “saw what was happening and remembered the Halachah,” we may say that Pinchas saw the act of the first man and remembered the Halachah. That is, he remembered what G-d had said to Adam: “Of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, you shall not eat thereof” (Bereshith 2:17). Yet Adam thought that it was proper to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, since he was intelligent and knew that eating its fruit would enable him to, so to speak, serve Hashem with even greater strength and vigor.

In other words, the pride of an alien fire entered Adam, something which Hashem had not commanded him, and it was for this reason that he sinned. Instead of thinking about G-d and His commandments, Adam thought only of himself, of how he could increase his own glory. That is what led him into transgressing Hashem’s command.

All this resulted from the fact that Adam did not possess the merit of his fathers. Adam had been fashioned by the Holy One, blessed be He, and thought that everything was permissible for him, which is how he eventually sinned. We therefore see the importance of the merit of the fathers, which Adam did not have to protect him. As for Pinchas, he did have this merit, which is why the verse describes his linage from Aaron. It was precisely the merit of his fathers that helped Pinchas the most in this trial.

When Pinchas perceived the grave danger that threatened the Children of Israel on account of the sin by the leader of the tribe of Shimon, he did not have time to obtain Moshe’s advice and receive the Halachah from him. If Pinchas had addressed Moshe to learn the Halachah, thousands among the Children of Israel would have died in the meantime. He therefore took the decision on his own initiative – along with the serious risk to his own life which it entailed, including losing his portion in the World to Come – with the sole purpose of saving the Children of Israel and avenging G-d’s Name, which had been profaned.

Hence Pinchas immediately arose from amid the assembly, took a spear in his hand, and killed the sinners to stop the epidemic. In doing so, he received the great reward of a long life, and at that point he also merited the crown of the priesthood, as well as the tremendous blessing: “I give him My covenant of peace” (Bamidbar 25:12). It was for this reason that G-d gave Pinchas such a great reward. What was it? “It shall be for him and his offspring after him a covenant of eternal priesthood” (v.13), because everything Pinchas did was for the sake of Heaven.

A Torah of Life

The Discovery of the Western Wall

The Sages of Israel established the Bein Hametzarim [Three Weeks of Mourning] in order to express the universal mourning of the Jewish people over the destruction of the Temple and the departure of the Shechinah from their midst. Yet the Shechinah, explain the Midrashim, never left the Kotel (Western Wall), a vestige of the Temple, which was our holiness and greatness. It is the place to which all eyes in Israel look, and before whose stones myriads of Jews gather at all times and every hour.

It is not without reason that the Arab residents of Jerusalem named the Kotel “the Wailing Wall,” due to the prayers and tears of Jews who pray there. In fact until the start of the 16th century, Jews had no well-defined place in which to pray. It was only after the conquest of the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem by the Ottomans in 1516 that Sultan Selim granted them a special area, devoted specifically to prayer, by the Kotel. A turning point in the status of the Kotel was then reached, and it quickly became an official area for prayer and an extremely sacred place for Jews.

In his book Eleh Masei, Rabbi Moshe Hagiz Zatzal recounts all the details behind these events, describing what we know about the Kotel from ancient times:

Here are the rumors that I heard from the mouth of those among them who are learned and skilled in the history of the Ottoman Empire, meaning the Turks. … When the great [Selim] conquered Jerusalem, he decided to set up his admiration at a location where even today there is a court of justice [on the north side the Kotel].

One day, he [Sultan Selim] saw from his window an old gentile woman, more than ninety years of age, bringing a sack or box [basket] of garbage and dropping it at a spot near his office. He became very angry, for in fact he had already seen that it was a rubbish heap, but had not paid attention to it because he thought that it wasn’t worth asking why it was located there rather than elsewhere. If it had been located elsewhere, he could have asked the same question, so questioning it would have been futile.

However since it was near his court, which was visible from there, he became angry, for who would have the audacity to add garbage to it? He sent one of his servants to bring the woman and her sack. When she arrived, he asked to which people she belonged, and she told him that she was a Roman. He asked her where she lived, and she replied: “Not far from here, about a two days’ walk.” She then explained that this is why she was tired, for according to the custom which the Roman leadership imposed, everyone who lived in Jerusalem had to deposit garbage at that spot at least once a day. Those who lived in the environs of the city had to do it twice a week, and those who lived at least three days away had to do it once every thirty days, for that place was the house of Israel’s G-d [the site of the Temple].

When the Romans were not able to completely destroy it, they became enraged, not wanting Israel to be consoled in any way. They decreed that the name of Israel should never again be mentioned in regards to it. “Therefore do not be angry that I came with a bag of garbage to your royal court,” said the old woman. “I meant no offence to you. I only did it because my faith obligated me to.”

The king calmly listened to everything the woman had to say. He then told his servants to detain her until he had investigated the matter to see if she spoke the truth. He ordered one of his servants, who was standing at a distance, to stop anyone he saw bringing a bag of garbage there, and to bring that person to him. When his servants brought him many others who brought garbage, he questioned them and found that they told the same story as the woman. He then ordered them detained.

The king opened his storehouse of silver and gold, and he took several bags of coins as well as a basket and a hoe, which he slung over his back. He issued a proclamation: “All who love the king and want to give him satisfaction should watch and follow suit!” He then went to the garbage heap and scattered a bagful of coins so that the poor should dig for them, and out of their love of money, clear the garbage away. He stood over them and encouraged them.

He ordered his ministers to take a basket and hoe in hand, and encouraged the poor among the people to remove the garbage as they did. Every day he scattered more coins. For some thirty days, more than ten thousand people cleared away garbage until the Western Wall and its foundations were revealed, just as today they can be seen by everyone. Among those who were detained, lots were drawn and thirty-eight people were selected by the king to be hewn into pieces. He nailed these pieces around the city, as well as in the neighboring cities and villages, as a stern warning to any man or woman, boy or girl, who would even think of spitting in that area, for it was sacred to our G-d.

The king was not content with this measure, for he summoned a few poor Jews who were there, and he said to them: “This was Hashem’s wish, so that the splendor of the Temple may return, as in the time when King Solomon built it. You have priority in this matter: Before you are the foundations, build it at my expense, without worrying about the cost.” The heart of these Jews broke within them, and they burst into tears and could not respond.

The king said to them, “Why are you crying? You should rejoice that G-d has sent me to you in order to help rebuild the Temple destroyed by the Romans – uncircumcised in their hearts and in their flesh – those who did not recognize the holiness of the place!” An old man from among the Jews answered as he wept: “May our lord the king live! May he live long within his kingdom. We are his servants and we are obligated to bless G-d, Who has inspired this idea of yours, and to demonstrate our gratitude to you for your generosity in wanting to pay for the expenses of the Temple.

“Yet according to our laws, we cannot rebuild the Temple because we believe that Hashem will rebuild it for us from Heaven, and at a time determined by His will, not by anyone else.” The king answered, “If that is so, I know that King Solomon prayed: ‘Also a stranger, who is not of Your people Israel, but comes from a distant land for Your Name’s sake…when he comes to pray towards this Temple’ [I Kings 8:41-42]. May his prayer be answered, for I will build it and take it as place of prayer for myself.”

Guard Your Tongue

Being Careful to Respond in Synagogue

It is forbidden to live in a neighborhood of people who habitually speak Lashon Harah. It is all the more forbidden to sit among them and listen to what they have to say, even if our intention is not to believe their words. How much more should we not sit beside such people in synagogue, for besides the fact that they will push us to follow their bad habits, to the point that we will also end up recounting stories about people, it will often prevent us from responding “Amen, Yehei Shemei Rabba” or to Barechu.

– Chafetz Chaim


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