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Yeshivat Har Etzion


PARASHAT PINCHAS

by Rav David Silverberg

 

Parashat Pinchas begins with God's promise to reward Pinchas for his heroic act of killing Zimri, the tribal leader of Shimon, and Kozbi, the Midyanite princess, as they publicly engaged in forbidden relations. The reward promised to Pinchas is spread over two verses, and appears to consist of two parts. In the first verse, God grants him "beriti shalom" – "My covenant of peace." Then, in the second verse, Pinchas receives "berit kehunat olam" – the covenant of eternal priesthood." The second of these promises is relatively clear. As Rashi explains, based on the Gemara in Masekhet Zevachim (101b), if not for Pinchas' heroism, neither he nor his descendants would have earned the status of kohanim, despite his being the grandson of the first kohen gadol, Aharon, and the son of the current kohen gadol, Elazar. The status of kehuna was granted only to Aharon and his four sons, and to their descendants born after the initial anointing of Aharon and his sons. Since Pinchas had been born to Elazar prior to his having been anointed kohen, Pinchas did not earn kehuna. He earned this privilege only through his zealous defense of God's honor as exhibited through his killing of Zimri and Kozbi.

The first part of his reward, however, seems unclear. What does God mean by "My covenant of peace"?

Several different explanations are suggested by the commentators. Many, such as Ibn Ezra, Bekhor Shor, Chizkuni (in his first approach), the Ba'alei Ha-Tosefot, and Abarbanel, explain this as a promise of protection from vengeance on the part of the victims' relatives and supporters. God assured Pinchas that he had nothing to fear from those who vowed to avenge the blood he spilt.

Targum Yonatan Ben Uziel adopts a Midrashic interpretation of this verse, claiming that "My covenant of peace" means that Pinchas will live forever so that he will ultimately announce the final redemption. Targum Yonatan here refers to the famous comment of Chazal (Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer 47) identifying the prophet Eliyahu as Pinchas. According to tradition, as mentioned in the final verses of Sefer Malakhi, Eliyahu will come before "the great, awesome day of God" to announce the arrival of the long-awaited redemption. The Targum Yonatan claims that it is to this that "My covenant of peace" refers.

This approach appears in "peshat" form in the commentary of Seforno to this verse. He claims that "beriti shalom" refers simply to long life. Pinchas lived during the story of "pilegesh be-giv'a" told in Sefer Shoftim (see Shoftim 20:28), which occurred at least after the death of Yehoshua and his contemporaries – many decades after the incident recorded in Sefer Bamidbar. Undoubtedly, then, Pinchas enjoyed a particularly long life, all the more so, Seforno adds, if we accept the tradition that Eliyahu was Pinchas.

But how does the term "covenant of peace" mean longevity? The Seforno briefly explains, "Because demise occurs only as a result of the contrast between opposites." The Seforno likely refers to the explanation presented at greater length later, by the Malbim. The human body operates only through the harmonious cooperation between its various different components. Death results from the disunity of the body's organs and systems, when they lose the ability to communicate and interact with one another. For this reason, then, God refers to long life as "the covenant of peace" – referring to a state of peace of harmony among the various parts of the body.

The Ketav Sofer suggests a different explanation to this blessing, viewing it as an introduction of sorts to the second promise to Pinchas, the kehuna. God here guarantees Pinchas that unlike Aharon, whose right to the kehuna gedola was challenged by Korach and his following, Pinchas will face no such confrontation. Realizing that his heroism saved Am Yisrael from annihilation, the entire nation will respect his right to the position, and no challenge will thus ever be posed to his priesthood.

The Ketav Sofer proceeds to suggest a different approach, as well, one which appears (with slight variation) also in the Netziv's "Ha'amek Davar." Pinchas required a special blessing of peace because of the "violence" in his personality as reflected – or perhaps engendered – by this act. Pinchas received God's promise that because he acted purely for the sake of God's honor, his killing of Zimri and Kozbi will leave no scar on his character, and that he will always exercise patience when dealing with other people and treat them benevolently.

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Yesterday we made brief reference to the famous notion in Midrashic literature identifying the prophet Eliyahu as Pinchas. As we saw, some commentaries interpret the "covenant of peace" promised to Pinchas (25:12) as referring to long life. This interpretation very well accommodates this concept, that Pinchas was Eliyahu – who was taken the heavens alive, and never died (see Melakhim II, chapter 2). Today we will discuss this topic at further length, making use of some of many sources compiled with remarkable comprehensiveness by Rabbi David Mandelbaum, in his "Pardes Yosef He-chadash" to this parasha.

We begin by reviewing the sources that indeed identify Pinchas as Eliyahu. Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer (28) and Yalkut Shimoni (in several places) describe in fuller detail the conversation between God and Eliyahu at Mount Chorev (= Sinai) after the prophet's famous, victorious "showdown" against the idolatrous prophets at Mount Carmel. As recorded in the Tanakh (Melakhim I 19:10), Eliyahu tells God, "I have acted zealously for the Lord, the God of hosts, for the Israelites have forsaken Your covenant… " The Midrash relates God's critical response to Eliyahu: "You always act zealously! You were zealous at Shitim… " This zealotry at Shitim is a clear reference to the incident of Ba'al Pe'or, which occurred at Shitim (see Bamidbar 25:1), where Pinchas killed Zimri and Kozbi. Clearly, then, according to these Midrashim, Pinchas and Eliyahu are the same person.

Another interesting source relevant to this discussion is the Targum Yonatan Ben Uziel to Shemot 4:13. Moshe Rabbenu, in his insistent refusal to accept the task of going to Pharaoh to demand Benei Yisrael's release from bondage, pleads with God, "Send whomever you will send." Targum Yonatan explains this to mean, "Send the one whom you will eventually send" – meaning, send Pinchas, the one whom you will send in the end of days. Like the passage from Targum Yonatan in Parashat Pinchas that we saw yesterday, this refers to Eliyahu's mission to herald the coming of the final redemption (see final verses of Sefer Malakhi). Clearly, then, Targum Yonatan identifies Pinchas, Moshe's great-nephew, as the prophet Eliyahu. Targum Yonatan makes this point even more explicitly a bit later in Sefer Shemot (6:18), where he writes that Amram, Moshe's father, lived to see his great-grandson, Pinchas, "he is Eliyahu, the high priest, who in the future will be sent to the Israelite exile, in the end of days."

The Yalkut Shimoni in Parashat Balak (771) likewise mentions explicitly that Pinchas is Eliyahu. It records God telling Pinchas, "You brought peace between Me and My children – in the future, as well, you are the one who will bring peace between Me and My children." The Midrash proceeds by citing the verse from the end of Sefer Malakhi that indicates that Eliyahu will come to lead Benei Yisrael towards teshuva in anticipation of the final day of judgment.

This identification of Eliyahu as Pinchas may have a basis in the Talmud, as well. The Gemara in Masekhet Bava Metzia (114a-b) tells the story of Rabba Bar Avuha, who once met Eliyahu in a graveyard. The rabbi asked him, "Are you not a kohen?!" He wondered why Eliyahu was permitted in the cemetery if he was a kohen, given the prohibition against kohanim contracting tum'a. Eliyahu replied that the graves wthose of gentiles, and according to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the remains of gentiles render tum'a only upon direct contact; their graves, however, do not generate tum'a. In any event, it emerges from this Gemara that Eliyahu was a kohen, which would obviously accommodate the theory that he was Pinchas. Indeed, Rashi, in his commentary to this Gemara, writes that the Gemara works under this very assumption.

Rabbi Mandelbaum draws further Talmudic evidence from a brief passage in Masekhet Ta'anit. The mishnayot towards the beginning of the second chapter of that Masekhet describe the prayer service conducted during public fast days. One prayer, which has been incorporated into our Selichot service, as well, goes through the Bible and cites examples of where God answered the prayers of our ancestors. In this appeal to God, we ask that He answer us the way He answered them. The Gemara notes a chronological inconsistency in this prayer, that we mention God's favorable response to the prophet Yona before we speak of His having answered the prayers of David and Shelomo. Why would we discuss Yona before we mention David and Shelomo, whom lived many years earlier? Leaving aside the Gemara's response to this question, the Gemara, oddly enough, does not ask why this prayer mentions God's answer to Eliyahu's prayer before it talks of David and Shelomo, despite the fact that Eliyahu, too, lived a good deal later than David and Shelomo! Rabbi Mandelbaum suggests that perhaps the Gemara assumed that Eliyahu was Pinchas, who indeed lived before David and Shelomo.

Tomorrow we will iy"H discuss this topic further.

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Yesterday, we looked at several sources in Midrashic and Talmudic literature that either state explicitly or imply that Pinchas, the man after whom this week's parasha is named, is the same man as the prophet Eliyahu. Tosefot, in Masekhet Bava Metzia (114b), raise a very simple difficulty on this theory. A famous story is told in Sefer Melakhim I (chapter 17) of how Eliyahu brought back to life the deceased child of the "isha ha-tzarfatit," the woman who had supported Eliyahu during the famine that ravaged the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Eliyahu revived the child by "stretching out over him three times" (verse 21), which seemingly involved direct, physical contact. But if we identify Eliyahu as Pinchas, who, at the beginning of Parashat Pinchas, is blessed with priesthood, how could he come in contact with a dead body? Does this not violate the code of the kohanim, which forbids them from contracting tum'a by touching a dead body? (In truth, the question applies even if Eliyahu did not actually touch the child, since he did enter the same room as the child's body, from which a kohen is likewise forbidden.)

Tosefot give a very simple answer: "This was permitted because of piku'ach nefesh [the interest in saving human life], for he was certain that he would live." In other words, the prohibition forbidding kohanim from coming in contact with a corpse was suspended in this instance in the interest of saving a life.

Many writers, however, have asked why Tosefot added, "for he was certain that he would live." This obviously implies that had Eliyahu entertained any doubts about his power to bring the boy back to life, halakha would have forbade him from making such an attempt by coming in contact with him. Why should this be the case? A well-established halakhic principle allows for the violation of Torah prohibitions (with the well known exception of the three grave prohibitions of adultery, idolatry and murder) for even a reasonable possibility of saving life. For example, in a case of an avalanche or toppled building, Shabbat may violated to continue searching for survivors so long as the possibility remains that dangerously injured people are still alive in the rubble – even if this cannot be ascertained. Why, then, would Tosefot require total confidence on Eliyahu's part in his ability to bring the boy back to life to permit him to violate Torah law for this purpose?

Some have explained Tosefot's position in light of the Rambam's ruling in his commentary to the mishna (Yoma, chapter 8) forbidding violations of halakha to save a life through mystical means ("be-ofen seguli"). Tosefot perhaps concurred with this position, and therefore justified Eliyahu's touching the dead child's body on the basis of the prophet's certitude in the effectiveness of his efforts. Given his assurance in the successful outcome of his attempt to revive the boy, this supernatural means of saving life was, for purposes of halakha, equivalent to a natural means of lifesaving, and was hence permitted even at the expense of the violation of a Torah prohibition.

Other answers are offered, as well, to explain how Eliyahu could come in contact with a dead body. The Shita Mekubetzet (there in Bava Metzia) claims that the child was not, in fact, dead, but rather a "goseis" – on the verge of death, a theory advanced by the Rambam (Moreh Nevukhim 1:42) and cited in the Radak's commentary to Sefer Melakhim. Tosefot did not accept this answer for one of two reasons. They may have felt that, as the Abarbanel argues, the verses there in Melakhim strongly indicate that the child had actually died and was brought back to life by Eliyahu. Alternatively, as Rav David Mandelbaum suggests in his "Pardeis Yoseif He-chadash" to Parashat Pinchas, Tosefot here may follow the position of Tosefot in Masekhet Nazir (4b), that a nazir, who is likewise forbidden from coming in contact with dead bodies, may not touch a "goseis," either, a halakha that may very well apply to a kohen, as well. (Although, as Rabbi Mandelbaum notes, Tosefot later in Nazir – 43a – rule explicitly that a kohen is permitted to come in contact with a "goseis.") For this reason, perhaps, Tosefot could not answer their question regarding the prophet Eliyahu by adopting this assumption, that the child had not died but was rather a "goseis."

Rabbi Mandelbaum cites possible Talmudic proof for the Shita Mekubetzet's claim that the child Eliyahu treated had not actually died, from a brief passage in Masekhet Nida (70b). The Gemara there records three "divrei borut," or foolish questions, posed by the Jews of Alexandria, one of them being, "Does the son of the Shunamite convey tum'a?" They refer here to a famous incident recorded in Melakhim II (chapter 4) where Elisha, the disciple and successor of Eliyahu, brings to life the son of the Shunamite woman – much like Eliyahu had resuscitated the son of the "tzarfatit." The Alexandrians wondered whether the Shunamite's son, who had died and been brought back to life, conveyed tum'a after having come back to life, or if his return to life terminated the ritual impurity he generated as a corpse. Leaving aside the Gemara's response, it is perhaps noteworthy that the people of Alexandria asked specifically about the boy revived by Elisha – but never questioned the status of the child treated by Eliyahu. The explanation, Rabbi Mandelbaum suggests, might be that, as the Shita Mekubetzet claimed, the child of the "tzarfatit" did not actually die, and thus the Alexandrians' question was not relevant to him. (Of course, it is highly questionable whether we can reach definitive conclusions based on a question the Gemara itself terms "foolish.")

We conclude our discussion by briefly mentioning two other explanations suggested to justify Eliyahu's actions. The Tosefot Ha-Rosh (in Bava Metzia) and the Radbaz (teshuvot, 6:301) answer very simply that this incident constituted a "hora'at sha'a," an extraordinary situation that allowed for a one-time breach of the Torah for the sake of "kiddush Hashem." The Radbaz suggests a different explanation, as well, citing Kabbalistic sources who explain that Pinchas and Eliyahu were not, in fact, the same person. When Chazal inform us that "Pinchas is Eliyahu," they meant that on some mystical level, their souls emanated from the same root, but not that there was a single person named Pinchas and subsequently Eliyahu. This will serve as our introduction to tomorrow's topic – the view in Chazal that Piis not Eliyahu. Here we will simply comment that this answer of the Radbaz does not explain the Gemara in Bava Metzia, which, as we saw yesterday, clearly assumed that Eliyahu was a kohen and thus bound by all the laws applicable to kohanim.

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We devoted our last two discussions to the notion of "Pinchas hu Eliyahu," that Pinchas, the hero of the story of Ba'al Pe'or who, in the beginning of Parashat Pinchas, receives a special reward for his zealotry, is the same man known later as the prophet Eliyahu. Today we will present the sources indicating otherwise, that Pinchas and Eliyahu were in fact two different people.

The Midrash in Bereishit Rabba (71:9) cites a debate among Chazal as to whether Eliyahu came from the tribe of Gad, or from the tribe of Binyamin. The Midrash then records that once, as the sages discussed the matter, Eliyahu personally appeared and resolved the issue, identifying himself as a descendant of Rachel – presumably confirming the theory that he is a Binyaminite. Interestingly, later in Berieshit Rabba (99:11), the Midrash appears to assume that Eliyahu belonged to the tribe of Gad. In any event, according to both these views, Eliyahu could not have been Pinchas, who was a kohen.

In Masekhet Bava Batra (121b), the Gemara cites a Berayta which lists the seven people who "encompass the entire world," meaning, whose lives form an unbroken chain from creation until the present. Metushelach, an eighth generation descendant of Adam, saw Adam in his lifetime. Metushelach in turn lived long enough to see Shem, Noach's righteous son, and Shem himself lived long enough that the patriarch Yaakov Avinu studied under him. Moshe's father, Amram, saw his great-grandfather, Yaakov, and the prophet Achiya Ha-shiloni, who prophesied during the time of King Shelomo's reign, saw Amram. Finally, the prophet Eliyahu, who remains alive to this very day, saw Achiya Ha-shiloni. It thus turns out that these seven men form a continuous chain from the present back to creation. (The Maharsha explains this to mean that the world constantly needs a tzadik of the stature of these seven in order to have the merit of continued existence.) Both the Rashbam and Tosefot note that the Gemara could have skipped one step by assuming that Pinchas and Eliyahu are the same man. Since Pinchas undoubtedly saw his great-grandfather, Amram, we could have skipped Achiya Ha-shiloni in establishing our unbroken link. Evidently, these Rishonim claim, the Berayta cited in this Gemara does not accept the theory identifying Eliyahu as Pinchas.

In Masekhet Megila (14a), the Gemara makes reference to "the forty-eight prophets" who prophesied during Biblical times. Rashi lists the forty-eight prophets, and in his list, which corresponds to the one found in Tana Debei Eliyahu Rabba (48), Pinchas and Eliyahu are counted as two separate prophets. Clearly, then, according to these sources, Pinchas and Eliyahu were not the same person.

We may detect this position from a different passage in Rashi's commentary, as well, in Masekhet Sota (13a), where the Gemara refers to Eliyahu as a student of Moshe Rabbenu. How could Eliyahu have studied Torah under Moshe, who died many years before his birth? At first glance, we might include this Gemara among the Talmudic sources of this identification of Eliyahu as Pinchas. After all, we indeed find elsewhere in the Talmud that Pinchas studied under Moshe. In its description of the sequence of events during the sin of Ba'al Pe'or, the Gemara in Masekhet Sanhedrin (82a) records a conversation between Pinchas and Moshe. Pinchas asks Moshe, "Did you not teach us" that a sincere zealot has the right to kill one who publicly engaged in relations with a gentile woman? This would imply that Pinchas indeed studied under Moshe, and, seemingly, to this the Gemara refers when it describes Eliyahu the prophet as Moshe's student. Rashi, however, opts for what appears to be a more difficult reading of the Gemara, that Eliyahu studied the Torah of Moshe and is hence worthy of the description, "Moshe's student." Apparently, Rashi felt that the position in Chazal identifying Pinchas as Eliyahu constitutes the minority view, and we should therefore avoid, as much as possible, assuming this position when interpreting passages in the Talmud. Indeed, in the Gemara in Bava Metzia (114a-b) discussed two days ago, which works on the assumption that Eliyahu was a kohen, Rashi writes, "There is a view that Pinchas is Eliyahu," perhaps implying that this represents the minority opinion.

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As we've discussed earlier this week, in the opening verses of Parashat Pinchas, the Almighty promises a reward to Pinchas for bringing an end to the plague that ravaged Benei Yisrael as punishment for the sin of Ba'al Pe'or. This blessing included "kehunat olam," the status of priesthood which God bestowed upon Pinchas and his descendants forever. Later in Tanakh, in Sefer Divrei Hayamim I (9:20), we encounter "Pinchas Ben Elazar" who served as a "naggid" (appointed official) among the tribe of Levi. There is considerable discussion among the commentaries regarding to whom and to what this refers. According to one view cited (and rejected) by the Radak, this does not refer to the Pinchas in Chumash, and just by coincidence both had the same name and fathers named "Elazar." Most commentaries, however, claim that this was, indeed, the same Pinchas, and they struggle to explain why Pinchas is mentioned among the records of the Levi'im during the time of Ezra.

In any event, the Talmud Yerushalmi (towards the beginning of Masekhet Yoma) understands the term "naggid" to mean a kohen gadol, and thus infer from this verse that at some point, Pinchas was assigned to the high priesthood. As the Yerushalmi observes, Pinchas had previously served as "kohen mashu'ach milchama" – the kohen assigned to join the Israelite army in battle and address them before engaging in warfare (see Devarim 20:1-10). It thus turns out that Pinchas held one prestigious priestly position – that of mashu'ach milchama – and later ascended to the highest rank – that of kohen gadol. On this basis, the Yerushalmi establishes that it is possible for a kohen mashu'ach milchama to subsequently receive an appointment as kohen gadol.

The question that arises from this brief discussion in the Yerushalmi is why one would have thought otherwise. Why must the Yerushalmi search in Divrei Hayamim for a source allowing a kohen mashu'ach milchama to later serve as kohen gadol?

Rav Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik zt"l, the Brisker Rav (as cited in "Matikei Shemu'a" vol. 2, p.63), explained that the Yerushalmi's concern was a purely pragmatic one. A kohen requires meshicha (formal anointing with the anointing oil) in order to become a kohen mashu'ach milchama or kohen gadol. A separate provision forbids undergoing meshicha more than once in a lifetime. How, then, could a kohen mashu'ach milchama, who was formally anointed upon being named to that post, now serve as kohen gadol, which also requires meshicha? We might have therefore concluded that such a transition, from mashu'ach milchama to kohen gadol, is not possible. The Yerushalmi proves, however, that halakha indeed allows for this appointment, from Pinchas, who served as mashu'ach milchama and later as kohen gadol. It must be, the Brisker Rav explains, that a kohen mashu'ach milchama does not require an additional meshicha upon assuming the post of kohen gadol, as his initial meshicha for the position of mashu'ach milchama suffices for the kehuna gedola, as well.

The Brisker Rav added that this theory may help explain why the Rambam never codifies this rule established by the Yerushalmi, that a mashu'ach milchama can later be named to the high priesthood. Apparently, the Rambam deemed this halakha too self-evident to warrant mention in his Mishneh Torah. But if this rule was too obvious for the Yerushalmi, which reached this conclusion only on the basis of a verse in Divrei Hayamim, why was it too obvious for the Rambam to mention? The Brisker Rav answers by pointing to a potential flaw in his explanation of the Y. He had claimed that if a kohen mashu'ach milchama would require an additional meshicha to serve as kohen gadol, halakha would not allow for such an appointment, since meshicha can be administered only once. In truth, however, the kohen mashu'ach milchama had another option. As explained in the Gemara (Horiyot 12a) and Rambam (Hilkhot Kelei Ha-mikdash 1:8), when no anointing oil is available, as was the case throughout the Second Temple period, a kohen was "anointed" to the position of kohen gadol through different means – "ribuy begadim." This meant that by simply putting on the special garments of the kohen gadol, a kohen can be formally "anointed" to the post. (The precise procedure how this is done is spelled out by the Rambam in Hilkhot Kelei Ha-mikdash 4:13.) Therefore, a kohen mashu'ach milchama can easily be appointed kohen gadol without concern; though he cannot be anointed with the anointing oil, he can undergo the process of ribuy begadim. For this reason, the Rambam omitted this halakha, as he saw no potential problem whatsoever in anointing a kohen mashu'ach milchama as kohen gadol.

But if so, then our original question returns: why was this point not obvious to the Yerushalmi?

The Brisker Rav suggested that the Yerushalmi worked on the assumption that a kohen mashu'ach milchama wears all the garments worn by the kohen gadol – an issue subject to a dispute in Masekhet Yoma (72). Therefore, he obviously does not have the option of being anointed through the process of ribuy begadim, as he already wears all the garments. The Yerushalmi therefore needed a special verse to teach that his initial anointing allows him to be appointed kohen gadol. The Rambam, however, rules (Hilkhot Kelei Ha-mikdash 4:21) that a kohen mashu'ach milchama wears only the garments worn by normal kohanim. According to his view, then, the mashu'ach milchama has the easy option of ribuy begadim should he be appointed kohen gadol. The Rambam therefore felt no need to codify this self-evident halakha.

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The final section of Parashat Pinchas (chapters 28-29) outlines the rules concerning the "temidin," the daily offerings brought in the Temple, as well as the "musafin," the additional sacrifices brought on special occasions (Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh and festivals). Virtually all the musaf offerings (with the exception of that brought on Shabbat) include a "se'ir la-chatat," a goat as a sin offering. However, Chazal detected a subtle terminological difference between the Torah's description of the sin offering on Rosh Chodesh and on other occasions. Specifically regarding the Rosh Chodesh offering the Torah describes the goat as a "chatat le-Hashem" – a sin offering TO GOD (28:15). Rashi cites from the Gemara two interpretations for this unique formulation. The first, which Rashi presents as the primary approach, comes from Masekhet Shavuot (9a), and explains that the Rosh Chodesh sin offering atones for a very specific violation: a case of tum'at mikdash u-kodashav (bringing tum'a into the Mikdash) of which one is totally unaware. This korban addresses situations where individuals inadvertently violated the Temple's code of purity and never became aware of having done so. The Torah therefore emphasizes that this offering is a "chatat le-Hashem," because it deals with transgressions of which only the Almighty is aware.

The second approach to this phrase appears in Masekhet Chulin 60b, where the Gemara, astonishingly, claims that the Rosh Chodesh sin offering is literally a "chatat le-Hashem" – a sin offering for the Almighty. The Gemara there records a "conversation" that took place, so-to-speak, between the moon and God shortly after the creation of the celestial bodies. Initially, God created the sun and the moon as equals. The moon, however, issued a reasonable petition to God, that both celestial bodies cannot operate simultaneously as equals. God accepted the moon's petition and decided to make it far smaller than the sun. The moon, understandably, questioned the fairness of this decision: "Because I raised a reasonable argument – I should become smaller?" The Almighty therefore searched for some way of appeasing the moon. Ultimately, he ordered Benei Yisrael, "Bring for Me an atonement for having made the moon small." We do this on Rosh Chodesh, when the moon has reached its smallest point, by bringing a sin offering "le-Hashem," for God Himself, as it were. It is through this "atonement" that God appeases the moon for having slighted it, so-to-speak.

Needless to say, this entire episode, as recorded in the Gemara, requires explanation and deserves independent treatment. We will discuss here just one of the many peculiarities in this Gemara. How are we to understand the notion of "kappara" ("atonement") for God? Everything God does is just, and He is beyond error and misjudgment. As much as we are entitled and encouraged to question, probe and explore God's management of the world, at the same time we must accept the justness of His decisions, whether or not we understand them. How, then, can the Almighty ever require "atonement" for anything He does? Necessarily, we must understand the word "kappara" in this context as implying something other than the concept of "atonement" in the conventional sense of the term.

Rav Moshe Feinstein suggested that "kappara" here refers to an acknowledgment of the legitimate considerations that gave way to overriding factors as God made His decision. Leaving aside the many questions that remain as to what this conversation was all about, there were compelling arguments for and against God's decision to shrink the moon. Ultimately, in His infinite wisdom, God afforded preference to some considerations over others and found it appropriate and necessary to take such a drastic measure. For this God does not require "atonement," in the classic sense of the term, but He nevertheless wanted us to recognize the complexity of this decision, that important considerations had to be overridden in favor of other factors.

Once again, this hardly clarifies for us the underlying meaning behind this entire episode, but it does, as Rav Moshe concludes, unearth one critical lesson embedded within this Talmudic passage. Many arguments that arise between people, within a community or among a nation evolve from nothing more than a simple conflict of interests. Both sides of the argument voice legitimate concerns shared by everyone involved, and the debate surrounds merely the final question of which interests deserve preference over the others. The "atonement" of the Rosh Chodesh offering teaches us to appreciate complexity and acknowledge the legitimacy of even those factors that we allow other considerations to override. This perspective can go a long way in helping to avoid the emergence of unnecessary animosity from inherently legitimate disagreements. By acknowledging the concerns of the opposing party, regardless of how strongly we disagree, we will hopefully maintain an atmosphere of mutual respect even in situations of controversy and disagreement.

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Yesterday, we discussed a passage in Masekhet Chulin (60b), cited by Rashi in his commentary to Parashat Pinchas (28:15), concerning the sin offering brought as part of the korban musaf on Rosh Chodesh. The Gemara tells that initially the sun and the moon were of equal size, until the moon petitioned the Almighty and claimed that "two kings cannot use the same crown." God responded by shrinking the moon, such that the two were no longer equals. But the moon complained to God, claiming that he should not be demoted, so-to-speak, simply for raising a legitimate concern. God therefore found it necessary to "appease" the moon, which He did by having us bring an "atonement" for Him in the form of the chatat offering on Rosh Chodesh.

Rav Yehoshua Heschel Rabinowitz, in his "Yalkut Yehoshua" (Brooklyn, 1933), suggests a fascinating, allegorical approach to this Gemara. (He refers the reader to his work "Divrei Yehoshua," where, in his comments to Parashat Bo, he offers a different explanation.) He claims that the "sun" a"moon" serve in this narrative as metaphors for material and spiritual pursuits, respectively. Daytime is generally spent making a living, accumulating wealth, and engaging in material pursuits. Nighttime, Chazal instruct, should, ideally, be earmarked for Torah study. Since people normally would not work at night, Chazal encouraged taking advantage of the nighttime hours for learning. Thus, Rav Rabinowitz suggests, Chazal employed the images of the sun and the moon as allegorical representations of man's two primary pursuits: material and intellectual/spiritual. Initially, God created mankind with two equally strong impulses – to pursue material comfort and luxury, and to pursue spiritual wisdom and perfection. This is symbolically represented by the image of the equally large sun and moon. In the ideal state of the world, no contradiction would exist whatsoever between wealth and knowledge, between material success and spiritual achievement. But wisdom, the "moon," argued that this could not work; man will naturally begin granting preference to the "sun," to his material endeavors, leaving no time or energy for the pursuit of wisdom. He therefore requested that he, the natural drive for knowledge, become the dominant impulse within the human being. God, however, did just the opposite: He implanted within mankind a strong drive for wealth and luxury, a drive that overshadows his natural inclination towards religious scholarship. This resulted in an arrangement whereby the "moon" receives its "light" from the "sun": scholars must turn to wealthy laymen for support and financial assistance. In an effort to "appease" the now diminished drive towards learning, God had Benei Yisrael bring the special sin offering of Rosh Chodesh.

We might add that Rosh Chodesh occurs when the moon has all but disappeared, when its light has been diminished to such an extent that it can hardly be seen. Continuing along the metaphoric approach developed by Rabbi Rabinowitz, we may suggest that this represents situations in one's life that do not allow sufficient time for intensive Torah study or engagement in lofty pursuits, when the burden of mundane responsibilities becomes too heavy to be shared with the burden of learning. The response to such a situation is the Rosh Chodesh offering, which perhaps represents the routine and cycle of the Jewish calendar. In recognition of mankind's preoccupation with earning a living, the Torah designated specific times in which one is required to bring his financial pursuits to a temporary halt and concentrate on the spiritual. If, indeed, our minds become too centrally focused on the mundane, if our "moons" have indeed shrunken, then we "atone" for this condition by ensuring to designate specific times where we free ourselves from our mundane responsibilities and allow the "moon" the opportunity to once again shine its light of wisdom and spirituality into our lives.

 

 

 

 

To see this year's S.A.L.T. selections:

 

www.vbm-torah.org/salt.htm


 

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