The Temple Institute: Temple Talk: Tammuz 24, 5767/July 9, 2007

"Pinchas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aharon the priest..."
(Numbers 25:11)

Rabbi A, Y. Heschel of Apt, (the famed Ohev Yisrael), points out that the Torah portion of Pinchas, which is always read during beyn hameitzarim, the three weeks of mourning and introspection concerning the destruction of the Holy Temple, contains within it a description of all of the Jewish holy days. Seven days of Passover, one day of Shavuot, two days of Rosh HaShana, one day of Yom Kippur, seven days of Sukkot, one day of Shmini Atzeret, Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh totaling twenty one days, are all mentioned in the Torah portion. These twenty one holy days parallel the twenty one days of the beyn hameitzarim period between the seventeenth day of Tammuz and the ninth day of Av. Rabbi Heschel of Apt goes on to emphasize that these twenty one days of mourning don't merely parallel the twenty one festive days, they are, in fact, the spiritual root and source of the twenty one festive days. This is a very powerful statement: In other words, these twenty one days that for the past 1937 years have been utilized to express our grief over the loss of the Holy Temple, are not grim and remorseful by nature, but quite the opposite. These are days which portend greatness, peace, and joy. These are days laden with potential.

The hidden nature of potential would seem to be the common theme which binds the inner spirit of Pinchas, both with his contemporaries, the generation of the desert, and with the twenty one days of the beyn hameitzarim. "Pinchas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest..." (ibid) is granted the rarified status of zealot. Despite the fact that he took the lives of two people, he is not considered a murderer, G-d forbid. Had even the smallest aspect of his character evinced a trace of violence or malice he could not have been accepted as a zealot. The Torah emphasizes his lineage, "Pinchas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aharon the priest..." (ibid), in order to make clear that he was a true son of Aharon, a man of chesed - kindness, who loved humanity and sought peace between people. Pinchas' potential for greatness was not obvious to the onlooker. His ultimate act of love for Hashem and His people seemingly came out of nowhere, contradicting his peaceful, forbearing personality.

Pinchas' action was in stark contrast to the inability of Moshe and the elders to actively intervene and put a stop to the licentious behavior of the people. Why was it that after forty years of rising to meet every leadership challenge, Moshe was suddenly stumped, as it were, by the sin being committed by Zimri and the Midianite woman? Perhaps there is a hint of an answer in the unusual observation Rabbi Akiva made about the generation of the desert. Departing from the consensus of his fellow sages, Rabbi Akiva insisted that the generation of the desert would not merit everlasting life in the world to come. This is a harsh and startling statement by Rabbi Akiva who is known for his generosity of spirit and great love for his fellow man. Why would he "condemn" an entire generation?

The generation of the desert, the generation which received Torah at Mount Sinai was on a spiritual level higher than any subsequent generation. This generation was nourished on the heavenly bread called manna, their shoes and clothes miraculously were never torn or made threadbare throughout the entire forty year sojourn through the desert, and they were fed by the well of Miriam which traveled alongside them throughout their journeys. This generation would not inherit the world to come because in a sense, they were already there. They already had attained the very same spiritual height.

The generation of the desert could grow no more. They had fulfilled their potential. This is where Pinchas stepped forth and distinguished himself through his action. He still had the spiritual power to adapt to the changing reality as the one generation made way for the next. He would subsequently enter the land of Israel. His potential to serve G-d was still before him.

Just as with Pinchas, there lies within the very pure nature of the twenty one days of the beyn hameitzarim the power for change and renewal. Hidden behind their outward appearance of mourning and regret is the great power possessed by the pure zealot to stop outright the 1937 year old plague of devastation, and restore the exiled twenty one holy days of the Jewish calendar to their rightful place of celebration: the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

It is up to us, today, to step forth and unlock the great potential inherent within the days of the beyn hameitzarim. It is up to us to tap into the same wellspring of zealous purity, and like Pinchas, right the wrong. Only then will we merit G-d's "covenant of peace." (Numbers 25:12)

Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK, and join Yitzchak Reuven and Rabbi Richman as they discuss Pinchas, the hidden potential of the three weeks of beyn hameitzarim.

Click to hear:

Part 1
Part 2