Torah Fax    

Friday - Shabbat, August 5 - 6 Parshat Devarim 

Torah Reading:  Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1 - 3:22)
Candle Lighting  7:49 PM
Shabbat ends 8:52 PM
Shabbat Chazon

Tough Love?

A Puzzling Midrash

Our Sages had two ways of teaching us how to live our lives. In most cases their teachings are direct and unambiguous. However, there are places in the Talmud and Midrash where they deliberately couched their lesson in cryptic and often elusive language. There is a body of Midrashic lore that has been characterized as “Midrash Peliah-A Puzzling Midrash,” in which some startling connections are often made between apparently disparate themes.

Possibly, one of the purposes served by these cryptic Torah teachings is to condition us to look more deeply into the texts of the Torah. Even when we think the meaning of a given verse is straightforward we are inspired to delve more deeply into it to find some of its embedded messages.

One such anomalous Midrashic comment is connected to the opening words of this week’s parsha: “These are the words…” The verse continues to list the places where the Jewish people regressed when they were traveling through the desert. According to Rashi, Moses, in these opening words that he spoke prior to his passing, intended to rebuke the Jewish people in a subtle fashion, by just alluding to their indiscretions.

Pinchas is Eliyahu

The Puzzling Midrash makes the following enigmatic statement: Whoever wants to know that Pinchas is Eliyahu-Elijah will see it from the words, “These are the words [Moses spoke to the Children of Israel].”

What in the world does the identification of Pinchas as Elijah have to do with Moses’ words of mild rebuke to the Jewish people found at the beginning of our Parshah? Pinchas was the grandson of Aaron, Moses’ brother who put an end to the plaque that G‑d sent upon the Jews for consorting with the Moabite women by killing a prince of Israel who was involved in the revelry (Numbers 25:12-9). Eliyahu is perhaps the most beloved prophet of all times, lived in the time of Kind Ahab. See I Kings 17 and further.  But how do these two greats relate to the opening words of our Parshah?

To answer this question let us compare the two personalities of Pinchas and Eliyahu and how their identities were intertwined.

Pinchas executed one of the Jewish Princes who was caught concerting with a Midianite Princess. His zealousness was harshly condemned by most of his contemporaries but highly praised by G‑d. Pinchas was a member of a rare class of zealots who do unconventional things to respond to extreme situations when other leaders might be baffled or incapable of reacting. Pinchas is anything but subtle.

Moreover, our Sages tell us that when Pinchas acted he had Divine assistance. Many miracles occurred that facilitated his brazen act of zealotry. Thus our Sages tell us that Pinchas symbolizes G‑d’s wonders. He experienced occurrences that are out of the realm of nature. For this reason, the first letter of his name is the initial of the word peleh, which means wonder.

Even his reward, given to him by G‑d, was unique. Although he was not anointed as a Kohain-Priest, he earned that distinction. That clearly violated the very structure of the priesthood that is based on heredity. One can never acquire this distinction through one’s efforts. Pinchas was the lone exception to this rule.  

In short everything about Pinchas is extraordinary. He was rule breaker in so many different ways.

Eliyahu the prophet is identified as the prophet who will herald the coming of Moshiach. The prophet Malachai—the last of the era of prophets—concludes the body of prophetic literature in the Bible with these words: “Behold I will send you Eliyahu the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of G‑d. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers.” In other words, Eliyahu’s function is to prepare the world for the Messianic Age by fostering unity and peace.

Our Talmudic Sages (Mishnah, end of Eidiyos) express Eliyahu’s major contribution as one that will be exclusively to bring peace to the world.

How do we reconcile this vision of Eliyahu as the man of peace who bridges the gap between generations and peoples with the image of Pinchas the zealot who is known for killing a prince and princess?

Subtle Rebuke

The answer can be derived from the opening words of this week’s parsha: “These are the words Moses spoke to the children of Israel..” As was stated in the beginning of this essay, Rashi explains that Moses was in fact rebuking the Jewish people without saying what they actually did wrong. For example, rather than telling them that they worshipped the golden calf he refers to a location in the desert called Di Zahav, which means an “abundance of gold.” This was an allusion to the golden calf that was created by their contributions of large quantities of gold.

What exactly was Moses trying to accomplish with his indirect approach to rebuking? If Moses was not interested in reprimanding them harshly, why did he change the tone of his criticism in subsequent sections of the Book of Deuteronomy? In later verses, Moses does not mince words. He chastises the Jews in the sharpest terms possible. Why here does he couch his criticism of the Jewish people in rather mild and allusive language?

The answer is that when we are compelled to rebuke a fellow Jew we must examine what our primary focus is. Are we just intolerant of and outraged by immoral behavior—as we should be—and therefore focus all our attention on the evil that was committed? Or, is it because we know how detrimental it is to stray from G‑d’s ways, and we therefore become concerned with the people’s degeneration and we fear for their fate.

To be sure, in both cases we care for G‑d and we care for His people. The question is which is the stronger motivator? Which is uppermost in our mind when we attempt to reprimand someone who is straying? Is it simply indignation and anger or is it love couched in terms of outrage.

Moses demonstrated that it was the latter approach of love and consideration for the people that was the preeminent influence in rebuking his people. By showing them that he cares for their feelings—and will therefore not begin his critical words with overt and harsh language—he demonstrated that his criticism was motivated by profound love for them.

Parallel Between Moses and Pinchas    
Pinchas too was concerned with G‑d’s honor. But his primary concern was for the welfare of his people. Pinchas’ zealousness was motivated primarily by his passionate love for his people. His sole concern in doing what he did was to save the Jewish people. Pinchas, contrary to his critics’ contention, was not a cruel or vengeful person. Nor was he motivated exclusively by a desire to “defend” G‑d’s honor. He knew that unless someone took drastic measures, the plague that already claimed the lives of 24,000 Jews—as recounted in the Torah—would continue to claim even more lives. Only Pinchas’ heroic response saved the day.

Thus, G‑d says (Numbers 25:11), “Pinchas, the son of Elazar the son of Aaron the priest, has turned My anger from the children of Israel by zealously avenging Me in their presence, and I did not destroy the children of Israel because of My zealous anger.” G‑d credits Pinchas with “assuaging” G‑d’s anger and thereby saving the children of Israel. It is clear from this verse that the Pinchas’ ultimate goal was saving the Jewish people.

And, indeed, the Torah then states that G‑d gave Pinchas His “covenant of peace.” Pinchas’ violent behavior belied his love and devotion to his people. Though not evident at first, his ultimate goal was to bring peace between G‑d and His people just as Moses’ rebuke of the Jews was an expression of his love for them.

Thus, the Midrash states that if you want to understand the interplay between a violent Pinchas and a peace loving Elijah, study Moses’ opening words of rebuke that were couched in non-angry terms because he did it out of love.

Enough Tough Love

We are now situated in the period known as the Three Weeks and the Nine Days, which are ostensibly expressions of G‑d’s anger to and rebuke of the Jewish people. This period—in which the tragic events that led to the destruction of the Holy Temple occurred—is a time of harsh rebuke. But, we know that underlying that rebuke is G‑d’s love true love for His people that will manifest itself imminently with the coming of Moshiach and the final Redemption.

To demonstrate to us that the rebuke was motivated by love, our Sages tell us that when our adversaries entered the Temple to destroy it they noticed the two images of the Cherubim—that symbolized the relationship between  G‑d and the Jewish people—were in each other’s embrace!

But we cannot be content with the knowledge that G‑d’s rebuke is a form of “tough love.” We want G‑d to shower His unambiguous love on us.  And, indeed, we are commanded to pray to G‑d and tell Him precisely that. We have had enough “tough love.” We want G‑d’s overt, unadulterated and unequivocal love.

We were empowered to help make that love emerge by doing the same in our own relationships with our fellow Jew. It goes without saying that whenever we must be critical of another it should be motivated exclusively by a sense of compassion and concern for their welfare. However, that does not suffice. We must work to make that feeling of love for the other break out of its cover and be expressed openly and unabashedly with love.               

Moshiach Matters 

Giving birth to children shares a connection with the ultimate redemption because Moshiach will not come until all the Jewish souls will descend and will be born within this material world.(The Rebbe, 22 Marcheshvan, 5751)

Moshiach - It’s a Jewish issue. For more info, visit 
© 2001- 2011 Chabad of the West Side