Self-Image

“Pinchas ben Elazar son of Aharon the Kohen turned back My wrath from upon the Children of Israel…” (Bamidbar 25:11)

Bilaam, wicked gentile prophet, failed in his multiple attempts to curse the Children of Israel. Before he left to return home, he suggested a plan to Balak, King of Moav, that he felt could bring death and destruction to the Jews. He suggested a plot to involve our men in immoral behavior. This did, in fact, arouse Hashem’s anger and a plague spread through the camp, killing 24,000 people in a very short time. Pinchas responded zealously; the plague ceased immediately and the people were saved.

The parashah opens with Hashem’s promise to grant the reward — a covenant of peace with Hashem. He and his offspring became full-fledged Kohanim, and he was saved from the Angel of Death. He is reputed to have become Eliyahu Hanavi who ascended to Heaven alive and still attends every brit milah ceremony around the globe.

Rashi is bothered by the fact that Pinchas’s lineage does not mention merely his father, as with most Biblical characters. The passuk goes back a seemingly unnecessary generation to let the world know that Pinchas was not only the son of Elazar but also the grandson of Aharon. Rashi explains, “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 a prince of a tribe of Israel?’ — this is why Scripture comes and traces his ancestry to Aharon” (Rashi 25:11).

Were we to react to Pinchas’s heroic intervention, we would probably appoint him to a position of honor or pay a generous monetary sum. Yet, the people derided and belittled him. Only after the words of abuse were spoken did Hashem write in our holy Torah for perpetuity that Pinchas was rewarded by our Creator.

There was once a young man who showed no desire to learn Torah. The great Sage, the Chazon Ish, approached him and asked, “Why aren’t you sitting and learning?”

“My teacher said I’m not able to learn,” the young man answered.

“Your teacher can make a mistake,” the Chazon Ish countered.

“My Menahel (principal) agreed with my teacher,” the student added.

“Your Menahel is also wont to err,” said the Chazon Ish.

“Well,” said the boy, “my father also agrees with them. I’m just not able to learn.”

“Your father and also your friends — everybody — can be wrong,” said the Chazon Ish authoritatively. “Don’t believe anybody.”

The Chazon Ish asked the failing student what he was required to learn. Then he asked him a simple question about that subject, which he was sure the young man could answer.

After the boy responded correctly, the Chazon Ish affectionately pinched his cheek and said, “You see, I knew you can learn! Now go and do your best — I know you will succeed.”

The young man grew and eventually became one of the most successful Roshei Yeshivah in the world.

Everyone is confronted with difficulties. The path to success is laden with obstacles — especially when one is out to do something good. Even after successfully completing a good deed, one may be subjected to verbal derision. One is tempted to think “Why try? It doesn’t pay.”

The Torah is teaching us that one must persist in doing what’s right in spite of negative criticism. One must maintain a positive self-image and a clarity of purpose. One should not allow jealous people to deter constructive efforts to do good. One must overcome challenges, put in effort, think positively — and one will be granted success.

Shabbat shalom.