Parshas Pinchas
Numbers 25:10 - 30:1

In Honor Of G-d ©

By Dr. Akiva Gamliel Belk

This study of the weekly parsha is dedicated in the loving memory of Mr. Samuel and Mrs. Anna Schwartzman, may they rest in peace.

In this week’s parsha we read,

And spoke Hashem to Moshe saying, ‘Pinchas son of Elozor, son of Aharon the Kohein returned My anger from on B’nei Yisroel through his fanatic zealousness [for Me] among them. And [because of his actions] I did not destroy B’nei Yisroel. Confirm, say, ‘I give him My Covenant of Peace.’” Numbers 25:10-12

Pinchas had just taken the lives of the Simonite Prince Zimri and Princess Kozbi of Midian for their open display of perverseness and disobedience to Hashem’s commands. Even though this is the situation, in our world Pinchas’ actions appear to skirt the edge of so many ludicrous, foolish, irrational actions. Yet, unlike what we read in the newspapers and internet or hear on the news, Hashem STRONGLY commends Pinchas for his actions of fanaticism! WHY?

We hear of many actions of fanaticism which claim lives. Those committing these actions claim that they are done with the strongest dedication to G-d!

- Some believe that their actions of refusing medical attention to themselves, their spouse, their children, their parents... are out of the purest love for G-d!

- Some believe that refusing blood transfusions is out of the purest love and obedience to G-d!

- Some believe that taking another person’s life honors G-d.

- Some believe that removing people of a different race from the world honors

Dear, dear reader, there are many fanatical beliefs in our world, many of which claim to be founded upon religion. In our Torah we read that Pinchas, a fanatical man... an extremely zealous man... was commended by Hashem for his actions. WHY?

The Torah’s accommodation of fanatical behavior MUST be carefully studied and understood. The Torah DOES NOT provide a rubber stamp for any kind of extreme behavior man dreams up. Many of man’s fanatical beliefs are NOT supported by G-d as man claims they are! So what separates Pinchas’ actions from those we see today?

First, Pinchas lived in a community governed by Theocracy, meaning Kal Yisroel - over three million people - were ruled and supported entirely by G-d the Creator. No other proclamation of Theocracy comes close to what Kal Yisroel experienced in the world after departing Mitzriam. That includes the reign of Dovid Ha Melech!

Second, Kal Yisroel as a community and individually reached higher levels of observance than Jews experience in our age. That being the situation, Pinchas was on a high madragah. The Jewish nation lived on an overall higher plateau than we do today!!

Third, we were grouped together as a people. We were NOT disbursed throughout the world as we are today.

Fourth, the majority of us then acknowledged that Moshe was Hashem’s choice as our leader. Today we have no central figure recognized worldwide.

Understanding these issues helps to explain what to us today may seem like very extreme actions taken by Pinchas.

Now continuing with the thought of extreme religion... zealousness... fanaticism among Judaism. This is a problem!! We have groups among the seriously observant that appear to have lost touch with reality. Let me explain!

- Not everyone can pay $18.99 for three pounds of kosher cheese. In comparison non kosher cheese sells for as little as 9.89 for five pounds. The difference is $6.33 for kosher and 1.98 for non kosher cheese. Non kosher cheese is over 300% higher. Now, I am not suggesting that one purchase and use non kosher products. However I am expressing a problem. How can the poor afford such high prices? How can parents with large families afford such high prices? For some it is very difficult! We need to realize this! A less observant Jew also struggles with pricing problems. Dear reader, this is another form of extreme that is difficult!

- Rabbium who earn executive scale wages for learning Torah, for leading a congregation, for teaching in a Yeshiva, Bais Yaakov, Jewish Day School or directing a kashrus program may be out of touch with the many struggles of the everyday Jew. Rabbium in these positions receive full pay when they do not work on 52 Shabbosim per year. They receive full pay when they observe Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkos, Purim, Pesach, Shavuos, Tish B’Av and Chanukah in addition to vacation time!! This is another type of extreme. Now the poor person, the parents with large families and the less observant are required to use several weeks of their precious vacation time in observance of Jewish Holy Days!! Again, I am NOT suggesting that we should violate the Torah. However this is another form of extreme! Our leadership receives executive wages, days off with pay for all Jewish Holy Days, plus vacation time.

- Certain Jewish Day Schools, Yeshivas and Bais Yaakovs allow the children of leadership to attend school for FREE or pay a greatly reduced fee for their many children. The poor and the parents with large families are required to submit humiliating forms that establish their dire need. Whatever happened to the halacha of trust? Why is it necessary to humiliate another Jew? Why can’t we accept another Jew’s word? Why are these Jews required to attend suppers they cannot afford? Why are they required to serve as volunteers while most leadership is NOT? Why do these Jews even send their children to private schools? Many Jewish children attend public school because of extremes like these.

- Then there is the issue of clothes... Can you imagine Kal Yisroel in the BaMidbar with the men all wearing Strummels, long black jackets, white shirts and black slacks and the women in ankle long dresses with expensive shaitls? I think NOT!! Yet today the poor feel pressured to purchase these items or be labeled “NOT FRUM!” That is a shame!! Something is not right here!! This is another form of extreme!

- Next we need new dishes for dairy items, separate dishes for meat items and parve items. We also need pots and pans for dairy, meat and parve. We need dishes, pots and pans for Pesach dairy, meat and parve... Then we need at least two dishwashers, etc... Another example of extreme that many just cannot afford!

- I have worked for various kashrus organizations down through the years. Many are deceptive. Many do not accept the kosher symbol of another kashrus organization, considering it less than observant for one reason or another. They state “NOT RECOMMENDED!” Unfortunately much of this is nothing more than high stakes politics of rabbium! What I have observed firsthand would cause many to reject kashrus entirely. THAT IS A SHAME! THIS IS NOT WHAT HASHEM INTENDED!

Chassidim, when I read Parshas Pinchas I think of the questions, ‘What does G-d intend for His people? What does it mean to be truly observant? What does it mean to honor G-d?

What we observe in Judaism today has evolved down through thousands of years. Some of what has evolved is very good. Some of what has evolved is baggage that many Jews find impossible! Some of what has evolved is extreme! Some of what has evolved needs to be acknowledged by the rabbium as extreme and dropped! PERIOD! Somewhere along the way some of us got confused about what it means to love G-d as Pinchas did!! Now again let me emphasize I am NOT suggesting that any Jew should violate Torah! However we need to understand that some of what we do is NOT REQUIRED by the Torah!

Hashem intends for Torah observance to be a realistic goal that every Jew can reach and maintain on a consistent basis! In just about every sector of life there are extremes. Extremes in Judaism work only for a small pocket of Jews. Most extremes are not required by the Torah. The Torah consists of just 613 mitzvahs of which several hundred have nothing to do with most Jews. Rabbinical halacha consists of thousands of commands many of which need to be reevaluated, modified or dropped completely. We are NOT living in Pinchas’ day! In Pinchas’ day there were only 613 commands with one central figure guiding us! Today we are living in a world with thousands of WEAK RABBINICAL COMMANDS AND NO CENTRAL FIGURE!! The Jewish masses cry out for relief from unnecessary extremes and who is listening? Is this honoring G-d or is this pushing Jewish masses away from any form of observance?

Wishing you the best!

Dr. Akiva Gamliel Belk

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