Who Has the Reins?

At the very end of last week’s parashah, we learned how the unimaginable occurred. Zimri, the Nasi of Shevet Shimon who, according to some, was one of the original 70 souls who came to Mitzrayim and was therefore over 215 years old, committed a shocking and incomprehensible act. Then Pinchas stepped forward, and after consulting with Moshe Rabbeinu, killed Zimri and Kozbi.

This week we learn of his reward.

The parashah begins with Hashem telling the yichus of Pinchas, the son of Elazar, son of Aharon Hakohen. The Midrash on this passuk says: “Hakadosh Baruch Hu states, ‘Badin hu sheyitol secharo — he is justified in receiving his reward.”

What is the connection between Pinchas’s lineage and the fact that he was entitled to reward for his action? If he had stemmed from a different family, would his actions have been any less praiseworthy?

The Ben Ish Chai explains with the parable of a king who went hunting in a forest accompanied by his powerful bodyguards. He was attacked by a team of robbers, but one of his bodyguards easily managed to defeat the attackers.

The king did not reward or even praise the bodyguard for his deed. A few days later, the king was back in the forest, this time accompanied only by a simple servant who was unschooled in defense tactics. Once again the king was attacked. Sensing that the king was in grave danger, the servant seized his master’s sword, and with every bit of strength he possessed he successfully fought off the attackers. This time the king generously rewarded his benefactor for his bravery.

When asked about the disparity in his responses, the king explained simply: “The bodyguard’s business is to ward off attackers. He is suited to the job and well trained for it. The servant, on the other hand, really isn’t cut out for this type of defense; only because of his great love for me did he exert himself and find the strength to save my life.”

Pinchas was a member of the Sanhedrin, a son and grandson of Kohanim. He did not have the ability to engage in physical battle, let alone to kill two people with a single thrust of a spear and then carry both bodies on the tip of the spear throughout the encampment. Only because of the great love for Hashem that burned in his heart was he able to accomplish the seemingly impossible.

All of us have hidden strengths. All of us can accomplish far more than we even imagine. It is all a matter of firing up our hearts by acknowledging the infinite love for Hashem that exists deep within us.


Another parable given by the Ben Ish Chai teaches a related, relevant lesson.

A wealthy man was riding a donkey on a road outside a city when he heard the sounds of a man weeping. He saw it was a man who appeared to be lame, lying on the ground collecting alms. Filled with compassion, the man on the donkey gave him a sizable donation. The man on the ground thanked him profusely and then asked him for a ride into town. The rich man helped him onto the front of the saddle, and with the pauper holding the reins, the two rode into the city. As they reached the center of the residential area, the pauper turned to the rich fellow and boldly declared, “I brought you where you asked me to; now kindly get off my donkey.”

“Your donkey?” The rich man was incredulous. “How can you not be embarrassed to make such a claim, when you know it is I who gave you the ride?”

The pauper started yelling at passersby to have mercy and save him from the donkey-jacker. The bystanders — who assumed the pauper was in the right — forced the rich man off his animal and allowed the thief to ride off with the donkey.

Deeply hurt, the rich man turned to the Rav of the city, a wise individual who immediately realized who was truly in the right.

Regretfully, he told him that there was nothing he could do to help him.

“Had you only placed this man behind you on the donkey, it would have been clear that it was your animal. Since you handed him the reins, it is an indication that he is the actual owner.”

Each of us is comprised of two separate entities — a guf and a neshamah. While the soul worries about the well-being of the body — for instance, for pikuach nefesh a person is obligated to eat on Yom Kippur — the body doesn’t do the same for the soul. In fact, if we hand the “reins” to physical desire, it will totally hijack us, depriving the soul of all its needs.

It is therefore vital at all times to ensure that it is the soul that is out “in front” and holding the reins.

This is alluded to in this week’s parashah (26:54): “To the many you will increase its inheritance, and to the few you shall lessen its inheritance.”

“The many” can also refer to the yetzer tov which is filled with much wisdom. Increase his inheritance, given him wide authority and leadership of your essence, and allow him to rule over both your soul and your physical existence. “To the few” — this is the evil inclination which is described as the foolish king, bereft of wisdom. For him you should lessen the inheritance; don’t allow him even a say over your physical existence.