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Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

Shabbat Shalom

The story of Pinchas reads like a novel, it is hard to believe that this is a “biblical story.”  There is public lewd behavior by Zimri, the head of a tribe, then Pinchas, stops him in middle of the act, by killing him and the Midyanite princess with whom he is cohabitating with. By doing so, he also stops the plague that takes the lives of 24,000 Jews!  Yet, the Jews belittled him with names to the point that they wanted to kill him.  

The Torah tells us who Pinchas was:  Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aaron the high priest, we learn that the Jewish people – all the Jewish people, not just the tribe of Shimon, of which ZImri was its leader – were mocking him for killing Zimri saying: You killed him because you are a cruel person.  and this cruelty you inherited from your mother’s father, Jethro!  You see, Jethro was an idol worshiper, and he was a cruel one at that.  He used to feed the cattle extra feed befohe would slaughter them so that they would be, not only better tasting animals and easier to kill, but worse, by feeding them in advance, they wouldn’t think that they are being slaughtered just after they were given such a good meal. That is cruelty par-excellence.  
 
The Jewish people were saying that Pinchas and his maternal grandfather were one and the same: Cruel people.  
 
G-d, on the other hand had a different perspective. Aaron, Pinchas’s paternal grandfather was a man of peace, a man who pursued peace. It is his DNA that Pinchas inherited. 
 
Peace loving people have a tendency to share their love all the time. It’s a felling and a personality trait that one can pass onto their children naturally. So, it anyway makes more sense to say that Pinchas inherited Aaron’s traits. Pincahs wasn’t cruel. He was kind.  He killed Zimri because he was acting wrongly. G-d rwards Pinchas, not just for his act, but to show the Jews that Pinchas was a just and kind man.
 
We can learn a very powerful message from this story:  Many times, we accuse someone of doing something for the wrong reasons. When it is not true (although it may seem so).  Even if it is a “little bit” true, nu, let the person work it out and come around the right reasons.  However, for now we should allow the person to just do their thing (as long as they are not hurting anyone – or themselves).  We don’t always know what makes someone tick.  What gets their blood flowing. What makes them behave the way they are.  
 
What matters is that we do the things we do to serve G-d. 

Learn Something From Everyone

Is there a person who you cannot stand so much that even mentioning their name makes you cringe? How about a building that evokes a feeling so harsh that you cannot even look at it? Do you feel guilty about those feelings? Perhaps you are onto something, and there’s a reason for those feelings.

 
What is interesting is that there is a law in the Torah that states one should not use an “idol” or an “idol-worshipper” as a reference or even as a landmark, lest someone think that your innocent reference to it can be interpreted as support. So, if this thing or person is so repugnant to you – for good reason – then there might be good reason not to mention it by name.
 
This makes us wonder, why is it that in our Torah portion when we have these shady characters of Balak and Billam, who try to curse the Jewish people, that not only does the Torah talk about them, the Torah portion of the week is even called by the name Balak! Shouldn’t we avoid him at any cost? Why is Balak the center of our story?
 
When G-d uses his name, we are confident that G-d is mentioning it, not in support of him, but to call him out. To let us know how not tobehave. What not to serve. Think about the campaign “don’t use drugs.” True, that slogan includes the word “drugs” but if that is all that you took from the slogan, then you missed its message. Clearly the message is: “Don’t use!”  
 
It’s the same with Balak. Because the Torah refers to him as an evil man, we will not think of following him; just the opposite, we will know how not to behave.

At times, it is just as important to teach ourselves and those around us how not to behave, as it is important to teach us how we should behave!
 
This week the Torah teaches us that we have to learn from everyone: From some we learn how to live our lives like them, and from others we learn how to live not like them.

 

Accepting Reality As-Is

In the world of business, it is well known that in order to have a cohesive workforce, it is important that everyone understands the fundamentals of the business’ mission statement. Not only what the company sells and does, but also why this company is a place where they should want to work. Especially in today’s competitive job market, it is imperative that company leadership creates an environment where everyone wants to “buy in,” and do so with enthusiasm. If a company cannot capture this fire within its staff, then the rate of employee retention goes down. People will come to work unhappy, or become less productive. That is why you see company after company invest in innovative ways to keep employees happy, engaged, and productive, lest they jump ship. 


This is a very rational approach to running a business. However, the moment a company falls on hard times and the perks start to disappear, frequently, so does the talent. Yet, how about the owners? Do they run for cover, or do they stick it out?  

You know the answer; they are here to stay and work through the difficult times.  Why is it that the owners must stay with the sinking ship? 

The answer is that the relationship an owner or founder has with his or her business is much deeper than just a rational relationship with the company where they work; They have a “super-rational” connection, a deep connection on a higher and deeper level. While on most days they run their company making rational decisions, something inside them allows them to accept the reality “as is.”

Every company owner wishes that their employees would endure the difficult times with the same commitment as they have, and not jump ship when things get tough. The owner is willing to stay committed, yet, we don’t see that happen as much with employees. Can this change? 

Let’s change the analogy from business and think about our Judaism for a moment. Yes, Judaism has much meaning, inspiring music, and customs. Judaism brings joy and fulfillment into our lives. On many days, we wake up in the morning and we declare proudly that we are Jews! However, what happens when we have a downer of a day? When we question G-d? Should we just throw in the towel and say good-bye to G-d? How do we maintain our connection to G-d in times of doubt? 

This is where this week’s Torah portion comes in to answer our questions.    

In Judaism we find that there are three categories of Mitzvot: Chukim/Super -Rational laws, Eidut/Testimonials, and Mishpatim/Common-Sense laws. 

Why the need for Chukim/Super-Rational laws? 

Super-Rational laws give us that opportunity to connect to G-d on a soul-to-soul level. This doesn’t limit us to just rational thinking. Going back to the business analogy, think of the difference between the owner and the worker when it comes to the company going through a rough time. At that point, the deeper the connection and the LESS rational thinking involved, the healthier the person. Not because they are not thinking rationally, but because they are being SUPER rational. There is a deep, a very deep, connection, that cannot be explained with words, to the point that it doesn’t need an explanation. Perhaps we can even say that an explanation will trivialize the relationship.   

This is the gift that G-d gave us: the ability to connect to Him, not as an employee, but as an owner. To claim ownership of our Judaism. To own our Judaism, we sometimes just have to accept it “as is.” 

Knowing this, we can, and should, hold onto G-d even during hard times. 
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