Begin Hostilities Against The Midyonim!
"And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, `Be hostile towards the Midyonim and smite them, for they are enemies of yours, in the trap which they laid for you in the matter of Pe'or..." (Bamidbor 25:16). We need to understand why the Torah stresses that the Midyonim were to be outlawed for the incident involving Pe'or, and not for having hired Bilaam to come and curse Yisroel, by which means they wanted to wipe Yisroel out entirely.
The answer which Chazal give to this question is, "One who causes another to sin is more guilty than one who kills him" (Sifrei 252, quoted by Rashi on Devorim 23:9). Following Bilaam's advice to lead bnei Yisroel to sin was far more serious than having brought him to try and get them destroyed.
What is surprising is that Bilaam with his great perception of the Divine, who is described by the posuk as "knowing the mind of the One above" (Bamidbor 24:16), and whose level of prophecy Chazal say was closest to that of Moshe Rabbenu (" `And no further prophet arose in Yisroel like Moshe...' (Devorim 34:10); in Yisroel, none arose like Moshe but among the nations there did, and this was Bilaam" (Rosh Hashonoh 21), acted as he did.
Following his failure to curse Yisroel, Bilaam told Bolok, "And now I am going to my own people..." (Bamidbor 24:14). After seeing the level of Klal Yisroel, he should have become a convert. No other gentile recognized his Creator to the extent that Bilaam did. Yet he fell from his lofty level and said, "I am going to my own people," remaining the same foul and abominable person that he always was. Although he did utter the words, "May my soul die the death of the righteous" (Bamidbor 13:10), he only wanted to die as one of Klal Yisroel, not to live as one of them.
What caused him to fall so dramatically? The answer is that "Jealousy, lust and honor take a person out of the world" (Ovos).
After Bilaam declared that he was going back to his people, he said, "I will counsel you," which the commentaries say refers to the advice to lead bnei Yisroel to sin through the Midianite women. The Arizal explains the posuk in the following way:
"I will counsel you" -- I will give you advice about leading them to the sin of immorality, "which this people (Klal Yisroel) will do to . . . " -- which can also be read as, "which will turn this people into;" "your people" -- Klal Yisroel will chas vesholom become like "your people;" and when will this take place? "At the end of days," may Hashem have mercy . . . [In our times, "the end of days," we thus suffer from Bilaam's advice.] This is why the Midyonim deserved hostility over the matter of Pe'or.
Consequences Of Leading Others Astray
"And Yisroel cleaved to Ba'al Pe'or . . . And Hashem said to Moshe, `Take all the leaders of the people and hang them before Hashem' . . . " (Bamidbor 25:3-4). Rashi (posuk 5), explains that each one of the dayanim killed two members of Klal Yisroel. There were eighty eight thousand dayanim, which means that almost two hundred thousand members of Klal Yisroel had sinned with Pe'or and it was the Midyonim who were responsible for this. For this they deserved to be made enemies of and to be beaten, for "one who causes another to sin is more guilty than one who kills him."
Our teacher and master HaRav Yehuda Leib Chasman mentioned the explanation given for this principle: "One who kills another only kills him in Olom Hazeh, while one who causes another to sin kills him in Olom Hazeh as well as in Olom Haboh" (Rashi, Devorim 23:9). HaRav Chasman explained that not only is the quality of the damage done in causing someone to sin far deeper, but the sheer amount that can be done in terms of the numbers of people affected is also far greater. How many people can one person kill by himself? One or two? When it comes to leading others to sin though, one person can harm countless others.
The journalists who write for the newspapers of the heretics which people have in their homes, produce words of poison and heresy that appear in thousands upon thousands of copies. These kill a far greater number of people than swords or spears could. Therefore, "make enemies of the Midyonim and smite them . . . "
Imagine seeing a professional murderer walking the streets openly, without being apprehended. Wouldn't it disgust and repulse us? Yet when we see inciters and propagandists, whose vocation is to write works of heresy and desire that lead others to sin R'l, and to push them away from Hashem yisborach, to what extent do we really feel that despicable murderers and destroyers of Yisroel are walking in front of us? The truth is being obliterated to such a degree, may Hashem have mercy!
This is why the Torah warns us so strongly, "make enemies of the Midyonim . . . over the matter of Pe'or," as we have explained.
A Secondary Cause?
To this first reason for making enemies of the Midyonim the Torah adds, "And for the matter involving Cozbi, daughter of the Midianite prince, their sister, who was smitten . . . " (posuk 18). We need to understand why the Torah repeats this information about Cozbi, which was mentioned just a few pesukim earlier, "And the name of the woman who was smitten, the Midyonis, was Cozbi bas Tzur . . . " (posuk 15).
The reason for this repetition is that besides the sin of Pe'or, the Midyonim committed a separate sin with regard to "the daughter of the prince of Midyon, their sister." How could they be so senseless as to disgrace the honor of their sister, the daughter of their prince, in abandoning her to wantonness? For this lack of humanity too, they deserved Hashem's verdict of, "make enemies of the Midyonim and smite them . . . "
I recall an incident which involved the Vilna Gaon ztvk'l, who once passed a group of layabouts who were playing cards. The Gaon commented that they too, would be brought to account in Heaven for not having delved into the meaning of the vision of Hashem's Merkovoh, in sefer Yechezkel. Besides the punishment they would receive for the serious sin of constant gambling, they would also be judged for their failure to use the same time for holy pursuits. In the same way, the Midyonim, who were to be brought to account for their gross depravity and indecency, would also be held guilty for a lack of basic humanity in abandoning a member of their nobility.
I once heard from the mashgiach of Ponovezh, HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein zt'l, in a hesped which he delivered for the gaon and tzaddik Rav Tzemach Shlomowitz zt'l, that Reb Tzemach had merited to live to a very old age and that in his youth, he had merited hearing HaRav Yisroel Salanter zt'l. The mashgiach repeated an idea of HaRav Yitzchok Blazer's on the posuk, "The Rock, His work is perfect, for all His ways are judgment; He is a G-d of faithfulness, and there is no injustice . . . " (Devorim 32:4).
HaRav Blazer zt'l, asked, if Hashem is a G-d of faithfulness, what need is there to add that there is no injustice? Since He carries out judgment and is faithful, there is certainly no injustice. He explained that there is a difference between the punishments that Heaven metes out and those that are imposed by human beings. If a mortal judge hands down a death sentence, he does not take into account that if the criminal dies, his wife will be a widow and his children orphans. This is not part of his reckoning, because "there is no mercy in judgment." When Heaven punishes, it is different: "There is no injustice." Although the guilty party may deserve to die because of his sins (as Chazal say, "There is no death without sin and no suffering without iniquity"), if there is a single person among his family or friends who will suffer as a result of his death and who does not deserve that suffering, the guilty man will be spared, in his friend's merit.
The Mashgiach said, "If the loss of Reb Tzemach would have made us suffer and we would not have deserved that suffering, he wouldn't have died. We can thus be deemed guilty of causing his death, chas vesholom. The Midyonim were thus punished at the same time for both the episode with Pe'or, and for abandoning their sisters.
The Two Sides Of Response To Sinners
I remember something that took place in 5698 (1938). There was a rumor that on a certain kibbutz, they were raising rabbits, R'l. When he was worried, or very upset, our master and teacher would sit and drum his finger on the table without saying anything. One of his talmidim who was close to him came in and asked him why he was worried. The bochur was very persistent in his questioning and our master and teacher replied along the following lines: "The Torah says, `And the land will not spew you out' (Vayikro 18:28), because of the sin of the rabbit breeders. In such a situation, they'll drive us out of the Holy Land. Nu, I can go, but she (he motioned with his hand towards his rebbetzin, who was lying sick in her bed), how can she go?"
Today R'l, with all that goes on in this state of Gehennom, R'l, do we feel any fear? There is certainly something to be said in their defense, regarding their having the status of "captive children," raised in utter ignorance, and in truth, this should be said in front of the Oron Hakodesh.
I once raised the following point regarding Yeshaya Hanovi's statement that, "I dwell in the midst of a nation with unclean lips" (Yeshaya 6:5), for which he was punished with a terrible punishment (King Menasheh wanted to kill him and he hid in a tree, so they cut the tree until they reached his lips; this was his punishment for calling Yisroel a nation of unclean lips). However, what did Yeshaya say in his first prophecy, "Chazon Yeshayohu ben Omotz" (Yeshaya 1:1)? He said, "The ox recognizes its owner . . . Yisroel do not know, My people do not think. Oh, sinful nation . . . corrupt sons . . . " -- far more serious accusations, it seems, than saying that they were a nation of unclean lips. Yet he was not punished.
The prophecy of Chazon Yeshayohu however, was a prophecy of rebuke which it was a mitzvo to deliver. When speaking with Hakodosh Boruch Hu however, he didn't need to call Yisroel "a nation with unclean lips." In the same way, when acting zealously in order to give rebuke, one has to speak up with the truth, but when coming to pray to Hashem, one has to be careful and find mitigating factors for them, such as their being captive children, so as not to arouse the prosecution.
I heard HaRav Eliyohu Lopian ztvk'l, tell the following story about Rav Chaim Leib Stavitschik ztvk'l, who was known to be a great kanoi. Before setting out on his missions of zealous protest, he would cry and pray to Hashem that he should not stumble in anything that he might say. He wept in front of the Oron Hakodesh, trying to find some defense for them.
Pitying The Reshoim
HaRav Eliyohu Lopian also told me that his rebbe, HaRav Simcha Zissel of Kelm ztvk'l, was by nature a weak person and that all week, his face was pale. The exception was Shabbos when, because of the day's holiness, his face appeared to be flushed with blood, like a young man's.
Once, somebody came to Rav Simcha Zissel on erev Shabbos when it was almost Shabbos, to give him a piece of good news, namely that Adam Hacohen, yemach shemo, the leader of the maskilim had died.
(I apply the wish yemach shemo to that rosho because the Chofetz Chaim also did, explaining that he didn't use the phrase about any Jew, with the sole exception of Adam Hacohen who destroyed and ruined many Jews. The Chofetz Chaim related that the maskilim used to search for gifted individuals, whom they would send to university in Berlin. He said that when he was fifteen, they tried to lead him off the right path R'l, but that boruch Hashem, was saved from them. That was the reason that he said yemach shemo.)
On that Shabbos, following the news that Adam Hacohen had died, HaRav Simcha Zissel's face wore its usual pale complexion, as he said, "Now he sees the truth, how he deserves to be pitied . . . " Rav Simcha Zissel was exemplary in the trait of sharing others' burdens with them. Thus, after the man had died and was no longer able to ruin others, he exclaimed that he deserved pity.
I recall it being reported that Ben Gurion fasted on Yom Kippur. Ben Gurion denied this in the Knesset and said that he didn't fast R'l. What punishment he received for denying that he fasted, apart from all the other sins which he did! How many harmful mal'ochim must beat him while he is still in the world of tohu, before he even merits entering Gehennom! However, on the one hand, we ought to be upset about him, as we have learned concerning Cozbi bas Tzur, as we explained before. The Midyonim had no pity on her and they abandoned their sister, the daughter of the prince of Midyon, apart from the sin of Pe'or. On the other hand, we should be afraid because of the uncleanliness with which the sinners are defiling the Holy Land, may Hashem have mercy and bring them back in complete repentance.
As Far As The Eye Can See
Up to this point, we have spoken about distancing ourselves from evil. Now we'll speak about doing good. In this parsha, we read how the daughters of Tzelofchod the son of Chefer, the son of Gilod . . . from the family of Menasheh, the son of Yosef, came to Moshe Rabbenu. The posuk tells us, "And these are his daughters' names, Machloh, No'oh and Chogloh and Milcoh and Tirtzoh" (Bamidbor 27:1). Rashi explains that their names are listed later in a different order, in order to tell us that they were all on the same level.
Later, the posuk says, "And Moshe brought their judgment before Hashem . . . `The daughters of Tzelofchod are speaking correctly . . . " (Bamidbor 27:5-7) and Rashi explains, "this is how this parsha is written before Me on high. This tells us that their eyes saw what Moshe's did not see." Rashi goes on to explain what it was that Tzelofchod's daughters claimed and received. We need to understand how these women merited such greatness, to the point where they saw what Moshe Rabbenu did not see.
On the posuk, "Yosef finds favor, he finds favor in the eyes of those who see him, maidens stepped so as to see him" (Bereishis 49:22). Rashi explains that the Egyptian daughters would step up onto the wall in order to look upon Yosef's beautiful appearance, each one of them stepping onto the place where she could see him (this explains why although the posuk speaks about the Egyptian daughters in the plural, the word "tzo'adoh, stepped," is in the singular).
Chazal comment on this posuk, "That eye, that did not want to benefit from what did not belong to it, shall merit to eat [kodshim kalim] as far [from Mishkan Shiloh, which stood in the inheritance of Yosef's offspring] as the eye can see" (Zevochim 118). We have already discussed this at length (in last year's shmuess for parshas Nosso), and now we will add a word about Rashi's comment in Zevochim, where he explains the words of the posuk, "ben poros," not in the sense of finding favor, as he does in his commentary on Chumash but in the sense of multiplying and expanding: "The area for eating kodshim was enlarged for him, because of his eye . . . " Yosef Hatzaddik brought about an increase in holiness when he rode out in the chariot belonging to Pharaoh's deputy and did not lift his eyes to look at the Egyptian maidens. As a result, the holiness of his portion in Eretz Yisroel was increased, so that anyone who could see Mishkan Shiloh from where they were, was able to eat kodshim kalim there.
Influencing The Future
One can add that Yosef also provided merit for the daughters of Tzelofchod, whose eyes, in this parsha, were able to see what those of Moshe Rabbenu could not, as Rashi says. This is an instance of measure for measure, and it is awesome to consider the effect of one person's actions, in subduing his yetzer hora upon generations far into the future. A person can confer kedusha onto his descendants and onto their's and so on, just as Yosef did for the daughters of Tzelofchod.
In parshas Ki Siso, the medrash (parsha 40) comments on a posuk in Iyov (28:28), "Lo, the fear of G-d is wisdom and moving away from evil is comprehension": if you moved away from evil, I will bring forth from you men who comprehend Torah. Where do we learn this from? From Yocheved and Miriam, whom the posuk tells us, "And the midwives feared G-d" (Shemos 1:17). Rabbi Berachyoh said in the name of Rav Chiya bar Abbo, `Their reward was Torah, for from Yocheved Hakodosh Boruch Hu brought forth Moshe, who merited the Torah being written in his name, as the posuk (Malachi 3:22) says, "Remember the Torah of Moshe, My servant" . . . and because Miriam distanced herself from evil and from sin, Hakodosh Boruch Hu brought Betzalel from her, who merited wisdom and understanding . . . " We see here that a person's good deeds provide merits not only for himself but for the generations that follow him as well.
I will repeat a story which I heard from a venerable Jew from Amsterdam. During the fearsome Holocaust, a Jewish girl was taken by a priest to his home in order to rescue her from the Germans. The girl lived in his house for years and didn't even know that she was Jewish. When she grew up, her mother suddenly appeared to her in a dream and told her that she was a Jewess. In the morning, the girl repeated her dream to the priest, who confirmed that it was true. She wanted to go back to living as a Jew, however the priest's son wanted to marry her. She was unable to refuse him, because of her gratitude to the priest for saving her and she therefore remained as she was.
Her mother came to her again in a dream and warned her not to marry the priest's son, for the outcome would not be a good one. However, the girl did not have the strength to stop at that point and she went ahead with the wedding. Her mother's admonition left her uneasy and she felt unwell, with the result that she was unable to partake of any of the food that was served at the wedding. Following the wedding, all those who attended fell ill with food poisoning from the fish they had eaten. Worst affected were the priest, his wife and son and, within a few days, all three of them died.
When the young woman saw this, she turned immediately to the Jewish community in Amsterdam and told them her story. She made a complete return to Yiddishkeit and became fully observant.
This is what the posuk at the beginning of the parsha tells us about Pinchos' zeal, "Therefore say, behold I give him My covenant of peace" (Bamidbor 25:12). Citing Chazal's comment that "Pinchos is Eliyohu," who will bring the tidings of redemption to bnei Yisroel, the Or HaChaim points out that the Torah is telling us here how Pinchos attained the merit of bringing back the hearts of the youth to their fathers.
May it be Hashem's will that the posuk, "And he will bring back the hearts of fathers to their sons and of sons to their fathers" (Malachi 3:23-24), should be fulfilled swiftly, with the arrival of Moshiach tzidkeinu and may He build us the Beis Hamikdosh, omein seloh!