A gitten ereev Shabbos! This week is a double-parsha, Parshas Chukas-Balak. There is an incredible amount to discuss on various aspects of these two parshiyos;
What I want to focus on is the last section of Parshas Balak, shortly before the incident of Cozbi and Zimri where Pinchas stabs them with his spear l’kadesh Shem Shomayim (to sanctify Hashem’s name). The famous posuk מה טבו אהליך יעקוב משכנתיך ישראל “How goodly are your tents Yaakov, your tabernacles Yisroel,” is known from Rashi to refer to the level of tznius our ancestors exhibited through the word “Oholecho”, through making sure the openings of the tents weren’t facing each other, as well as the Mishkan for atoning for our sins. In the Gemoro in Sanhedrin Rebbi Yochanan through d’rash brings that “Ohelecho” is a reference to batei midrashim, and that Bilam wanted to curse Klal Yisroel that we shouldn’t have them, or the Shechinah resting upon us, hence the word “Mishkan.” In the next perek, Bilam prophecies to Balak and one phrase he says is translated by Onkelos, “And he will take his reign and say ‘Woe to those who lived through what Kel has granted,” meaning that it will be extremely bitter and terrible for the reshoim (wicked) who live through the destruction that Hashem will bring upon them. Immediately after this, the Yidden then go on to commit the sin of impropriety with the women of Moav, and Pinchas stabs the two worst culprits in front of the whole Klal Yisroel.
What can we learn from these various episdoes? First of all, all the brochos that Bilam was forced by Hashem to bless Klal Yisroel with are only possible to be properly fulfilled through learning Torah lishmah, as well as fulfilling the mitzvos. The Tanya says that if someone doesn’t do mitzvos or learn, all the more if he actively sins, he’s called a rosho, a wicked person. The destruction of wickedness is something that is good, but ultimately a painful thing for everyone involved. There is a potential kavono from the brocho in Shmoneh Esreh requesting the destruction of the wicked that is worth consideration: the Shem Havayah there has the nekudos for Keser, meaning that the destruction of the wicked of Klal Yisroel doesn’t necessarily refer to destroying them completely, but rather the part of them that urges them to be wicked. Though to modern sensibilities, the actions of Pinchas may seem extreme and unwarranted, the truth is that he was acting from a place of Chesed expressed through Gevurah. Rather than being fine with a fellow Yid doing such a grave aveirah as znus (whoredom), which would not be a true Chesed since he’s allowing that Yid to absolutely destroy his neshomo, Pinchas destroys the whole situation in the first place through killing both of them, which is ultimately a greater Chesed since it prevented the sin from continuing further, therefore ruining the neshomo of Zimri. This is true kanous (extremism), rather than obsessing over political problems and fighting about those, the goal must be to fight against evil and sin. In this generation it can be confidently said that there is no-one on such a level as to justify physical violence l’shem Shomayim, rather the concept of Pinchas is important to internalize. Sometimes, unfortunately, a Yid has to be harsh on another Yid to help them grow, or at least to not fall. Sometimes something that seems to be pure Gevurah is genuinely coming from a place of Chesed. To go into the various differences would take too long, but let it be said that your average internet rabbi screaming about Gehinnom is not a Pinchas.