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  • Rabbi Max Davis


Parashat Pinchas 5780 Shabbat Shalom. Last week’s parshat Balak concluded with the tumultuous deeds of Pinchas.  His decisiveness and zealousness in executing Zimri and Kozbi are simultaneously admirable and alarming.  The Pinchas narrative continues at the beginning of parshat Pinchas, but the break is peculiar and begs explanation.  Why does the relatively brief Pinchas narrative straddle two parashiyot? The answer may lie with an earlier narrative, the story of another man who acted swiftly.  In fact, it is the first narrative of hasty action in the Torah, and things did not work out well. Our universal ancestors, Adam and Chava, deserve our respect for many reasons.  However, they were also guilty of committing the world’s first sin.  Were it not for their sin, we might now be enjoying the delicacies of Gan Eden - and what action robbed us of paradise? The classic answer is temptation.  Adam and Chava gave into temptation, the historic root of innumerable sins throughout history.  However, there is another way to express this original sin.  The Or HaChaim (R. Ḥayyim ben Moshe ibn Attar, d. July 7, 1743) cites Midrash Rabbah regarding the sin:

!כבר אמרו ז"ל שאם היה ממתין עד ערב שבת היה מקדש על היין

Our sages taught: If (Adam) had waited (an hour more) until Friday evening, he would have made Kiddush on the wine (from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.) In other words, the forbidden fruit was not actually forbidden in all forms at all times.  Adam and Chavah were permitted to transform it into Kiddush wine, and Shabbat was only an hour away!  Had they waited sixty minutes more, Adam and Chavah could have tasted the fruit in a permissible format.  But they couldn’t wait.  Temptation is often about an inability to wait.  History’s first couple acted with haste and were, consequently, expelled from paradise in haste.  No time to pack their bags or bid the fauna farewell.  Haste did them in - and it nearly did in Pinchas too.  This, suggests Rav Moshe MiKutzi (the Smag) is what necessitated a pause in the Pinchas narrative.

We do not rush to lavish reward upon zealotry.  If you have zealous tendencies, wait a little until you have first thoroughly searched your deeds to determine that they are all purely for the sake of Heaven... Pinchas acted with great haste in last week’s parshah.  It is for this reason that the Torah, literally, puts on the brakes.  His reward is delayed by a week.  We have a week to contemplate Pinchas’s actions, scrutinizing all circumstances and motives.  Of course, Hashem the Bochein Kelayot, knows all motives in advance.  However, the structure of the Torah itself models a sense of proper judiciousness, especially where hasty action is concerned. The Three Weeks in which we are engaged recall significant tragedies of Jewish history.  We mourn the Big Picture of destruction, exile, and distance from Hashem’s Presence.  Yet every big picture is comprised of smaller brushstrokes (pixels, nowadays.)  These are the relatively minor missteps and hasty errors that snowball to produce epic fails.   Perhaps the best expression of this is the Gemara’s tale of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza.  How much havoc has Jerusalem experienced because of a series of actions triggered by a lack of compassion at a party? I cannot help but think of the killing of George Floyd as well, and the snowball effect we are experiencing locally, nationally, and even globally.  It would be naive to suggest it was all triggered by 8-minutes of zealotry at the hands of an officer whose veins coursed with adrenaline, racism, anger, indifference, or a lethal combination thereof.  Many would say that the present reckoning was a long time coming.  Just ask the statue of Christopher Columbus or the ghost of John C. Calhoun.  Many and deep-rooted are the factors that have contributed to our present situation - and yet, if not for those 8+ minutes, we would have known a very different month of June.  I imagine the proverbial 'road less traveled' is quite overgrown for lack of use.  It's probably slow going and therein lies its true blessing. May Hashem grant us the wisdom and the time to pause when necessary.  The Three Weeks, mellow and melancholy, are an ideal time to practice.

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