False Modesty

Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aharon Hakohen… (Bamidbar 25:12)

Rashi: Because the tribes were humiliating him, saying, “Did you see this son of Puti whose mother’s father [Yitro] fattened calves for idolatry yet he killed the prince of a tribe of Israel?”

Bilaam’s plot to entrap the sons of Israel in immoral behavior was successful and a plague broke out and killed 24,000 people. Pinchas acted on his own for the honor of Hashem and singlehandedly killed the prince of the tribe of Shimon and the Midianite princess. Immediately, the plague stopped and our people were saved. One might think there would have been a parade honoring the brave savior, but instead, Rashi reveals to us that Pinchas suffered from negative talk among the people regarding his tainted lineage. The Torah relates that he was a grandson of Aharon “to clear his name.”

Rabbi Yehonatan Eibschutz asks: “Why did they belittle him? Didn’t they agree that Zimri should have been killed and that what Pinchas did was right?”

He proposes that everyone agreed that Zimri was guilty of a serious crime and was subject to the death penalty. However, to quiet their own consciences because they did not act as Pinchas did, they postulated that if someone of high status had killed Zimri it would not have resulted in a major sanctification of Hashem’s name.

The fact that Pinchas, of tainted lineage, did so, resulted in a greater kiddush Hashem. This served as an excuse to cover everyone else’s failure to act at the moment of the desecration of Hashem’s name. Rav Yehonatan explains that the verse specified that Pinchas was of great lineage, a descendant of Aharon, in order to teach that their logical deduction was incorrect. It was not a reason; it was an excuse. Everyone had the opportunity to perform a great kiddush Hashem but the evil inclination supplied each person with a “reason” why it was better that they not act, and Pinchas reacted instead.

Every person manufactures excuses for his failures, saying “I am not worthy” or “I am not suited” for such a great mitzvah. One must realize it is not clear thought that is working but rather excuses supplied by the evil inclination to hold one back from fulfilling one’s potential. The evil inclination invokes his wily ways to dress up deterrents in costumes of spiritual greatness, e.g. modesty (“I am not worthy”) or love of peace (“It’s really someone else’s opportunity. I shouldn’t steal it from him). These are ploys used to restrict our zealousness for Torah and mitzvot.

Hashem said to Yirmiyahu the prophet, “Before I created you in the womb, I selected you; before you were born, I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet concerning the nations” (Yirmiyahu 1:5).

Yirmiyahu replied, “I don’t know how to speak, for I am still a boy!”

Hashem countered, “Do not say ‘I am still a boy!’”

Harav Nosson Wachtfogel, zt”l, explained: Yirmiyahu’s refusal was based on the fact that he felt he was too young for the position and untrained in speaking to people. Hashem told him that Yirmiyahu may not see his own potential, but if Hashem appoints him to a task, he certainly has what it takes to perform.

Rabbeinu Yerucham lamented, “How many greats we lost because they heard the call but responded ‘I am not worthy; I am not capable.’ Hashem’s response is: ‘Never refuse by saying “I’m too young,’” i.e., ‘I’m not capable of fulfilling the position Hashem is giving me.’”

Every Jew has opportunities. Everyone gets a call. False modesty is an easy way out but it causes immeasurable loss to those who fail to accept the appointment with confidence. Keep your spiritual ears open and respond positively when called.

Shabbat shalom.