The Temple Institute: Temple Talk: Tammuz 17, 5769/July 9, 2009 The Fast of the Seventeenth

"Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aharon"
(Numbers 25:10)

"Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aharon the kohen has turned My anger away from the children of Israel by his zealously avenging Me among them, so that I did not destroy the children of Israel because of My zeal." (Numbers 25:10)

Normally Torah would suffice with the mention of Elazar as the father of Pinchas, but here Pinchas' grandfather Aharon is noted. Midrash tells us that the people were questioning Pinchas' heritage. After all, his grandfather, through his mother was Yitro, (Jethro), a former idolator. Perhaps that would explain Pinchas' "violent" action when he rose up and killed Zimri, the prince of the tribe of Shim'on, and Cozbi, the Midianite princess. By drawing attention to Aharon, the high priest and brother of Moses, whose bona-fides couldn't be questioned, as he was recognized universally as being a ba'al chesed - a man of loving kindness, and an ish shalom - a man of peace, Torah is testifying to the pure intentions that motivated Pinchas into action.

At a time when Moses and the elders didn't know how to respond to the brazen act of Zimri and Cozbi, and to the breakdown of Israelite society that they were flaunting, Pinchas emerged from the shadows and did what had to be done. And yes, if his motives had not been pure, if he had acted on any impulse other that the pure love of G-d and out of zealousness for His honor in the world, then he would have been guilty of a heinous crime. Therefore Torah makes it clear:

"Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aharon the kohen has turned My anger away from the children of Israel by his zealously avenging Me among them, so that I did not destroy the children of Israel because of My zeal." (Numbers 25:10)

And lest there remain any lingering doubt, G-d makes it emphatically clear: "I hereby give him My covenant of peace." (ibid 25:12)

Today is the 17th day of the month of Tammuz, a day in which disaster has repeatedly befallen the people of Israel throughout their long history. On the 17th the original Tablets of the Law were shattered by Moses when he descended from Sinai only to see his people frolicking around the golden calf. On the 17th the daily Tamid offering was discontinued during the First Temple, and on the 17th the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Roman legions who would soon ransack and destroy the Second Holy Temple. Today the 17th is a day of fasting for the people of Israel, beginning the three week period of reflection and introspection, focusing on the Holy Temple. The Holy Temple was destroyed twice on the ninth of Av, (in the years 586 BCE and 70 CE), The ninth of Av (July 31) is observed by fasting and the recitation of lamentations and concludes the three week period.

Just as the Israelites in the desert exhibited extreme circumspection concerning the purity of Pinchas' motivation for his act of zealotry, we today must be certain of the purity of our motivation during these three weeks, known in Hebrew as Bein HaMetzarim - Between the Straits:

Are we fasting and taking upon ourselves the customs of mourning for the Holy Temple as a way of expressing our profound spiritual dissatisfaction living in a world without the Holy Temple?

Are we refraining from attending musical performances, social get-togethers, parties and weddings as a way of expressing our bitter disappointment in ourselves, for as we know, "a generation which has not built the Holy Temple can be likened to a generation that witnessed its destruction?"

Or are we simply indulging in self-serving self-restraint as a way of paying lip service to the idea of the Holy Temple, without really examining what it should and could effect in our lives and in the life of humankind? Does the three-week mourning period merely present a convenient outlet to expiate our guilt and then, when it's over, simply go on our way without regret? If this is the case, and our motives are not pure, then yes, we are guilty of a heinous crime, a crime no less a betrayal of our heritage, that that committed by Zimri, prince of the tribe of Shim'on.

But if our pain is sincere, and if it is pure, and if it compels us to action, to renewed and reinvigorated progress toward the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, then we too, like Pinchas, can achieve the greatest reward, G-d's "covenant of peace." (ibid 25:12) After all, we, too, like Pinchas, share unassailable lineage. We, too, have been designated by G-d, "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (Exodus 19:6) And, have we not been told: "The glory of this last house shall be greater than the first one, said the L-rd of Hosts. And in this place I will grant peace, says the L-rd of Hosts." (Haggai 2:9)

Tune in to the week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss Pinchas, the man who stood in the breach and stayed the tide of assimilation. The 17th of Tammuz marks the beginning of the three week period of mourning and reflection over the destruction of the Holy Temple. Today the nations have laid siege once again on Jerusalem, as in the days of old. Perhaps we are in need of a collective Pinchas "moment" of purity and clarity of purpose, to rise up and restore the honor of G-d.

Part 1
Part 2