This column doesn’t generally focus on the parsha. The Yated has many incisive and illuminating articles each week featuring the sedrah. However, Parshas Pinchos in many ways defines the essence of this time of year and offers us opportunities to actually change the season from mourning to consolation.
I believe that the Maharsha (Bechoros 8b) is the first to point out that just as there are 21 days between Rosh Hashanah and Hoshanah Rabbah, so are there 21 days between Shivah Assar B’Tammuz and Tisha B’Av. These days can be transformed from a time of tragedy to one of hope and salvation through our efforts. The rest of this approach may be found primarily in the writings of the great Chassidic rebbes.
The Apter Rebbe (Sefer Oheiv Yisroel) suggests that this is why Parshas Pinchos is almost always read during the Three Weeks. The Torah gives us 21 days of holiness and celebration, which can effectuate this transformation. They are the days of Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh, seven days of Pesach, Shavuos, two days of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the eight days of Sukkos. He offers a mnemonic device to remember this set of gifts. Dovid Hamelech says, “Ach tov l’Yisroel” (Tehillim 73:1), the gematriah of ach being 21. The Apter concludes that “G-d willing, when we repent and purify our actions…these days will become amazing Yomim Tovim that cannot even be imagined at the moment. The greatest of these will be Tisha B’Av itself, which even now is referred to as a moed (Eicha 1:15).
The Ma’or Vashemesh follows the Maharsha in comparing the days between the fasts and those between Rosh Hashanah and Hoshanah Rabbah, but adds that the promise in the Yomim Tovim is out in the open while that of the Three Weeks is hidden. Its potential is embedded in the korbanos of the Yomim Tovim which are all enumerated in Parshas Pinchos. The holy letters written about the sacrifices in our sedrah evoke the joy and sanctity of the Yomim Tovim themselves, although on the surface we are enveloped in grieving and sorrow during these days. The rebbe of Ruzhin goes even further. Quoting a Chassidic tradition, he notes that when Moshiach comes, Shivah Assar B’Tammuz will be the first day of the new Yom Yov and Tisha B’Av the last. The days in between will be like the days of Chol Hamoed we currently enjoy only during Pesach and Sukkos. He sees this as the fulfillment of various prophesies (Yirmiyahu 31:13 and Zechariah 8:19) predicting this transformation. The rebbe of Sochatchov (Sheim M’Shmuel Parshas Korach and Pinchos) echoes the same message of hope as emanating from korbanos we will lain this Shabbos.
Two of the Chassidic giants give us seemingly opposite messages about this relationship between Pinchos and the season, but which actually transport us to the same place of hope. The Bnei Yissoschor is afraid that we will sink into dejection over the loss of the Bais Hamikdosh and sees the korbanos of Parshas Pinchos as a tool for pulling us out of a potentially dangerous depression. The Sefas Emes (Pinchos 5642), however, feels that the Anshei Knesses Hagedolah were concerned that we will not yearn sufficiently for the Bais Hamikdosh at this crucial time. They therefore arranged that we should read this Shabbos about the korbanos, which will arouse our longings for that sublime era and experience. These two pillars of Chassidus are not really arguing. Even as we are engrossed in thoughts of our lost grandeur, we are reminded that the glory can be restored through our pining for the Bais Hamikdosh and for the restoration of the sacrificial order.
In fact, five years later, the Sefas Emes (5647) suggests a practical method for accomplishing the gaaguim necessary for bringing back the Bais Hamikdosh and the avodah. He cites the posuk from our sedrah (28:2) with which we are familiar from our monthly Rosh Chodesh reading: tishmeru lehakriv li b’moado. The literal translation is that “You should be scrupulous to offer Me…in its appointed time.” However, the Sefas Emes also references another meaning of the word tishmeru. It is reminiscent of Yaakov Avinu’s “v’aviv shomar es hadovor” (Bereishis 37:11). There, Rashi explains the word to mean “waited and anticipated its happening.” We know that the Chofetz Chaim wrote an entire sefer called Tzipisa L’yeshuah based upon the mandate to actively wait and anticipate the geulah. This is the real charge for this season, to not only believe but to try to imagine and reconstruct in our minds the ancient splendor and nobility we have lost.
This reconciliation of two approaches to the season is based upon an even earlier Chassidic rebbe (quoted by the Maor Vashamesh ibid), Rav Menachem Mendel of Riminov. He reminds us of the famous Gemara at the beginning of Brachos that Rav Yosi entered a nearly destroyed building in Yerushalayim in order to daven. There he met Eliyahu Hanovi, who inquired if he had heard any special sounds in that churvah. He responded that he had heard a heavenly sound which was lamenting, “Woe is to me that because of My children’s sins I have destroyed My house, burned my sanctuary and exiled My children into foreign lands.” Eliyahu Hanovi then informed Rav Yosi that this scene and sound replay themselves constantly, even as Hashem is happy that His children praise Him so beautifully in His house.
Rav Menachem Mendel quotes Chazal who say that “Hashem performs mitzvos such as putting on tefillin, curing the sick and taking pity upon the poor.” Then he alerts us to the astounding fact that “Hashem also has regrets, which we would not be able to say on our own, since the Creator is perfect in every way. Yet, the Gemara (Sukkah 52b) states categorically that Hashem regrets four things every day. One of them is His having created the yeitzer hara, who incites people to sin. He explains that Hashem “regrets” this creation when He sees Jews who worship and serve Him despite tremendous difficulties. His regret is at its height during this period of year, when He felt that He had to destroy His Bais Hamikdosh, yet His people yearn for the opportunity to serve Him once more with even greater zeal and alacrity.
Rav Menachem Mendel utilizes this idea to explain the power of Rav Yosi in the churvah. He was, of course, overcome with sadness over the destruction it represents and he thought of the pain of the Shechinah. However, he also knew that one is not permitted to serve Hashem out of sadness. He therefore overpowered his emotions and began to daven with great joy. This is the kind of prayer and avodas Hashem that elicits the Divine regret and causes Hashem to restore what we have lost. That is the oscillation that we noted in the Sefas Emes and the Bnei Yissoschor. We must go through a wrenching process of mourning for the Bais Hamikdosh and forcing ourselves to go on with our avodah. It is the heroic process of Jews who emerged almost decimated from every churban. Those who survived the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition, Tach Vetat, the Soviet Gulag and Churban Europa, the Holocaust. First we mourn, then we rebuild, and we pray that finally Hashem will truly regret what has happened to us and will redeem and save us.
But why Pinchos himself? Why is all this under his watch and what does he teach us personally? The Sefer Yagdil Torah (page 363) quotes an amazing lesson from Rav Shimshon Pincus. He teaches that “the tears of the Three Weeks are not a halacha. They are an expression of caring.” Pinchos got up and declared, “I care. This matters to me.” Rav Pincus suggests that for this reason, he became Eliyahu Hanovi, the herald of the geulah. He cared about kevod Shomayim. It mattered to him that Hashem’s honor was being besmirched. “We may not have the blood to give to Hashem. But we must be able to offer Hashem a drop of caring,” says Rav Pincus. When we refrain from holding marriages and music, celebrations and joy, we are showing the Creator that we still care about His kavod. This is the reiach hanichoach, the sweet fragrance, that we offer Hashem during this time of mourning and yearning.
Pinchos and his parsha teach us two different lessons which are really one and the same. The korbanos teach us to yearn, but not to become depressed, for they will return. Pinchos himself teaches us that actions matter. Whatever we do to add to kavod Shomayim and reduce chillul Hashem causes Him to want to bring us closer to Him and His home. Surely that is the goal for each one of us. We can yearn in our heart without picking up Pinchos’ lance. But if called upon, we should be ready to make a kiddush Hashem whenever we can, so that Hashem will once again allow us to serve Him in His Home on earth, bimeheirah beyomeinu.