Before Bilam, the wicked gentile prophet, left King Balak, he gave him some advice as to how to bring destruction upon the Jewish people. “It’s true your plan to have me curse them has failed,” he said, “but I can tell you how to beat them. The G-d of these people hates promiscuity — and they love the finer things of life. Set up a market on the outskirts of their camp with older women selling fine linen, silks, etc. When they start to get involved in buying the merchandise, offer them the ‘better goods’ inside the tents. There you should station young Midianite girls to seduce the Jews into serving your idols. The wrath of G-d will be kindled by their lewd behavior and you will be done with them forever.”
The plan was set in motion and the anger of G-d was kindled. A plague started to spread throughout the camp of the Children of Israel. To make matters worse, the leader of the tribe of Shimon brought the young princess of Midian into the camp and mocked Moshe before taking her into his private quarters. Pinchas bravely and miraculously entered the camp of the tribe of Shimon, killed the pair with a spear and carried them around the camp as a display of the punishment due anyone who should desecrate the name of G-d.
The great reward showered on Pinchas was G-d’s covenant of peace — eternal life. G-d exclaimed, “He has zealously avenged My vengeance!” Rashi explains the magnitude of his deed: “He expressed the rage with which I should have been enraged.” Harav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, explains that the great reward received by Pinchas was due him because he acted in a way that
G-d Himself would have and should have acted under the circumstances. From here Harav Feinstein concludes, we learn that other mitzvot where a person acts “in place of Hashem” [so to speak] earn abundant reward.
The Talmud tells of the wicked Turnus Rufus who confronted Rabi Akiva. “If G-d loves the Jews, why did he make poor ones?” Rabi Akiva answered, “So that we, by helping them, could earn a place in the World to Come.” In other words, although G-d certainly can take care of everything and everyone on His own, He graciously gives us opportunities to act on His behalf so that we can earn eternal rewards.
This is comparable to a mother and child walking home from the store with packages. The child is eager to help her mom, who can get along very well without her daughter’s assistance. She gives the child some small items to carry to give the little one the sense that she is helping her mommy. A big smile shines from the child’s proud face. Her insistence on helping demonstrates love for her mother — and that gives great pleasure to her mom. That is what we are doing when we do mitzvot, such as charity, whereby we “help” G-d do His job of taking care of everyone.
The Alm-ghty is quite capable of doing everything by Himself. It is only due to His great kindness that He allows us human beings the opportunity to demonstrate our love for Him by helping His needy ones.
Rabbi Raymond Beyda serves in the Sephardic Community in Brooklyn, N.Y. He lectures to audiences all over the world. He has distributed over 500,000 recorded lessons free of charge. He is author of the book 1 Minute With Yourself: A Minute a Day to Self-Improvement, Sephardic Press, 2008.