Thursday, July 10, 2014

Parsha Perspective

By Rabbi Yisroel Shusterman, Dean, Cheder Chabad of Monsey

This week's Torah portion, Pinchas (Bamidbor [Numbers] 25:10-30:1) begins with the reward which Pinchas received for his act of bravery—meting out punishment to Zimri ben Salu who was openly contemptuous of Moses and was cohabiting with a Midianite woman. Zimri was the chieftain of the Tribe of Shimon, who were staunchly loyal to their leader. Thus Pinchas's act was fraught with danger. The Talmud speaks of the various miracles which occurred on that day which allowed Pinchas to emerge unscathed from Zimri's tent.

Pinchas’s act wasn't too rational. He was the proverbial man in Tiananmen Square standing in front of the approaching column of tanks. His chances of success were minimal, but he was merely following the example of the very first Jew. Abraham was a young man in Ur, living amongst a pagan society, when he started preaching a philosophy of monotheism. The dictatorial tyrant Nimrod was decidedly displeased with the nuisance Abraham was creating. In fact, Abraham was called the "Ivri" (Hebrew), which means "from the other side," because the entire world was on one side while he, with his monotheistic beliefs, was on the other side. But Abraham didn't flinch because he knew that he was doing the right thing.

The story of Abraham and Pinchas has repeated itself like a broken record throughout our difficult but glorious history. Our nation would not exist today if not for the many heroic, odds-defying acts performed by courageous individuals and groups. Two examples: The holiday of Chanukah celebrates the bravery of a small group of people who refused to reconcile themselves with the spiritual pollution of Hellenism and battled a Greek army which was many times larger and stronger than they.

As well, this week's Torah portion always falls in proximity to the 12th of Tammuz, the day when Chabad Chassidim celebrate the miraculous release of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Chabad Rebbe, OBM, from Stalinist-communist prison in 1927. This happened after he was sentenced to be executed by a firing squad. At a time when teaching Torah meant almost certain death or Siberian slave labor, the Rebbe did not despair. He defied the Soviet regime, and encouraged his followers to do the same. He established underground yeshivas, mikvahs, kosher slaughter-houses, etc., and he personally oversaw and arranged for the financing of this underground network of Jewish defiance.

The end result of all these stories was victory. Abraham's opponents are relegated to the annals of history, whereas millions of his descendants still follow the path which he paved. [Actually, his legacy includes not only the Jews, but also most of the population of the world today that follow religions which are ostensibly monotheistic – and all of them find their roots in Abraham.] Pinchas was rewarded for his deed, and to this very day his offspring serve as Kohanim (priests) who bless the Jewish people and will resume their service in the Holy Temple with the coming of the Moshiach. The Greeks were banished from the Holy Land; Torah-true Judaism continued to flourish; and we were given another few days every year to celebrate, eat, and be merry… Jewish education continued behind the Iron Curtain until the day when it was shattered. They are gone, and the Torah is still here and there in Russia.

Even when the odds are against us, we must put up a fight for that which is right. We must do what is incumbent upon us, and G‑d will take care of the rest.

(Excerpts from Chabad.org - by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg)

May you have a meaningful and uplifting Shabbos!

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