“Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: “Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aharon the Kohen, turned back My wrath from upon the Children of Israel, when he zealously avenged My vengeance among them…” (Chapter 25, Verses 10-11) At the end of the previous parsha, Balak, Pinchas put an end to the plague which killed 24,000 people as a result of the immorality and idol worship some of the Jewish men were seduced into with the Moabite and Midianite women. Here at the beginning of our parsha, Hashem declares that Pinchas committed an act that saved many lives (Artscoll commentary).
Pinchas merited to continue the leadership of the Kohanim after his father and grandfather, says Reb Noson, because he was zealous to stop the sexual immorality of Zimri and those who followed him. He helped bring back to the Jewish people the aspect of guarding their covenant with Hashem, which means conducting themselves with faith and holiness in relationships, especially in marriage. This is the aspect of the Kohen, and therefore Hashem blesses Pinchas in the next verse: “Behold! I give him My covenant of peace.” Pinchas’ act of zealousness helped to subdue the negative influence of the wicked Bilam, who was steeped in impurity, as we discussed last week. Rebbe Nachman explains in Likutei Moharan in the 34th teaching in Part One, that by way of speaking holy words before Hashem in personal prayer, with a close friend, and by learning the teachings of the Tzaddik, any person can leave their lowly, fallen state of sin and truly return to Hashem. Every person needs these three aspects in their service of Hashem. Bilam did not want to nullify his desires with holy speech. He did exactly the opposite- he tried to use his impure speech to cause damage to the Jewish people. The Tsaddikim on the other hand bring out the good points of each and every Jew through their good words and they give strength to our souls. (Likutei Halachot, Laws of the Priestly Blessing, 5th teaching)
Rebbe Nachman explains in the teaching mentioned above that each and every Jew has a special point, a point where they too are a tsaddik. “Because in every Jew there is something precious, a point which cannot be found in his friend… And this special point which each person has, it influences, shines and awakens their friend’s heart…” He explains also in this teaching that when a person’s heart in sunken in negative, false aspects of love, meaning that their heart lusts after negative desires, then a person’s heart is broken in shame and they are far from the pure love which truly exists between Hashem and each and every Jew. Therefore a person needs to speak a lot of words of prayer before Hashem in personal prayer, so that their special point, the light of their soul, will begin to shine again to their heart. This will help them return to the pure love of our covenant with Hashem. A person also needs to help their friend by speaking with them words of faith and awe of Heaven, in order to awaken the special point in their friend’s heart. How do we find our special point of light and begin to share it? This process of awakening our hearts and being able to give from our special point to our loved ones and friends comes as a result of connecting to a great Tsaddik and learning their teachings and advice.
This past Shabbat I went to a neighbor’s house after Mincha to pick up my daughter. When I knocked on the door the father said hello and asked me if we had any plans this summer to go on a trip. I answered, that yes in a month we’re going to the Ukraine. He asked me, ‘do you have family there?’ I answered him that no, we are going to the grave-sites of the tsaddikim who are buried there. He gave me kind of a surprised look and said, ‘okay enjoy.’ I know it seems hard to understand for many people, why travel all the way to the Ukraine to pray by the graves of tsaddikim? We go to these true tsaddikim because they return to us all of the gifts, all of the spiritual treasures which we’ve lost along the way- faith, happiness, yearning, knowledge, trust, renewal, comfort and hope. Their light gives us the strength and good advice we need to begin making changes in our life and to discover who we truly are, as we learned above regarding the three key points which we need to be able to return to Hashem.
Reb Noson writes at the end of Likutei Moharan that Rebbe Nachman spoke with him once about the grave-site of the holy Baal Shem Tov, and how it’s very good to go to his grave to pray there, (Rebbe Nachman would pray there a lot, even as a young child when he lived in Mezibuzh). The true tsaddikim merit that their burial site has the holiness of the land of Israel, and Rebbe Nachman says that the land of Israel has the power to return us to our covenant with Hashem. (Likutei Moharan, Part Two, 109th teaching) Just as Pinchas merited the covenant of peace and shined Hashem’s love to the Jewish people, so too the great tsaddikim of recent generations have this power to help us return to Hashem’s love and closeness, and to help us discover that point inside where we too are a tsaddik who has a beautiful, unique light to shine.
(In memory of my grandfather, Berel ben Yaakov Moshe haKohen)
(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)