A friend of mine took on the responsibility of helping out two boys whose father had passed away. About two years ago, he asked me if I knew someone who had tickets to a professional baseball game. I approached my friend Harry as I thought he might help. “I don’t have season tickets, but my company sometimes has tickets, so let me check.” A few days later Harry called me back. “I have tickets for your boys!” When I picked up the envelope with the tickets, I saw there were four—two for the boys, one for my friend who was bringing them and a fourth so they could pick a friend to bring along! And these were box seats behind home plate! The boys were so excited.
A couple of weeks later, Harry invited me to the vort (engagement party) of his daughter. I looked at the date for the vort—it was the same day as the baseball game he had arranged for the fatherless boys! While the boys were attending the game, his daughter would be having her vort! When I saw Harry at the vort, I told him, “I believe that because you went out of your way to take care of Hashem’s children, Hashem took care of your child.”
This concept of Hashem rewarding praiseworthy behavior is illustrated in Parshas Pinchas when the Torah lists the family names in each shevet (tribe) with the prefix letter “heh” and suffix letter “yud” as in “Hachanochi” or “Hapalui.” Rashi explains that other nations were challenging the legitimacy of the Jewish people in the time of Pinchas, 40 years after they left Egypt. Egypt was known for its moral decadence, so maybe some of the children had an Egyptian father or mother. To counter the nations’ accusations, Hashem added the letters “heh” and “yud” to each family name within each shevet. These two letters, in reverse order, spell out the specific name of Hashem used in reference to kedusha (purity) with regard to intimate relations.
Why was this accusation by the other nations happening now in Parshas Pinchas, a full 40 years after leaving Egypt? The accusation should have been dealt with when the Jews first left Egypt! The Shem Mishmuel explains that when Bilaam’s plan to curse klal Yisrael was thwarted by Hashem, Who was protecting them, he advised Balak to send Midianite women to seduce the Jewish men. He knew that Hashem detests licentious behavior and if his plan worked, the Bnei Yisrael’s level of kedusha would decline and they would lose their divine protection. Bilaam’s plan was successful and 24,000 of Bnei Yisrael who were seduced into worshipping idols were executed.
When Zimri, the nasi of the tribe of Shimon, publicly engaged in an immoral act with Kozbi, a Midianite princess, Pinchas sensed the anger of Hashem rising from all the immoral behavior. He boldly and courageously ran into the tent of Zimri and executed him and Kozbi with a spear. Pinchas’s zealous public act served to restore the sanctity of klal Yisrael. However, the sinful behavior demonstrated by Zimri with Kozbi raised the question of the moral level of the Jewish people while they were in Egypt. Therefore, Hashem specifically attested, by adding the “heh” and “yud” around the family names within each shevet, that the Jews did not falter in the area of kedusha in Egypt and that all their children were truly born of only Jewish parents.
This fact is noted by Dovid Hamelech in Tehillim: “Shivtei Kah eidus l’Yisrael.’’ Although the simple translation of this verse means the tribes of Hashem are a testimony to Israel, it can be translated as, “The name of Hashem surrounding the name of each tribe testifies to the moral legitimacy of the tribes of klal Yisrael.”
The Gemara tells us that Pinchas is actually Eliyahu Hanavi and the Tur tells us that Eliyahu / Pinchas attends each bris milah via a seat designated for him. Eliyahu is referred to as the “malach habris,” the angel of the bris, and the mohel in his recitations calls out to Eliyahu to stand at his side and support him while he is performing the bris milah. This honor is a reward to Eliyahu for preserving the moral sanctity of the Jewish nation. Hashem in effect tells Eliyahu, “You took care of my children in your lifetime, so I will let you see at each bris that I am taking care of your children’s moral sanctity, which is signified by the bris ceremony.”
Maintaining the attribute of kedusha is especially important as summer begins. The weather is warm, our schedules are more relaxed and we may be traveling away from our regular shuls and the presence of our role models. A little extra effort at this time in maintaining our kedusha pays dividends that will span the generations.
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.