In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, we talk about Pinchas. He was known for his heroic actions on behalf of G-d. When he witnessed an act of rebellion, he did not wait around looking for others to act. He did not wait for instructions from anyone. Pinchas was bothered by what he saw as a direct affront to G-d Himself. He immediately sprung into action and took matters into his own hands.
In response, G-d ended the plague that had stricken the nation, exclaiming, “Pinchas ben Eleazar ben Aharon Hakohen Hashiv Et Chamati Meal Bnei Yisroel,” “Pinchas the son of Eleazar the son of Aaron the Kohen has turned My anger away from the children of Israel.”
Just before this event, the Jewish people were faced with yet another adversary. Balak, the powerful king of Moav, sent the gentile prophet Bilam on a mission to curse the Jewish people. G-d intervened. Instead of cursing them, some of the most beautiful blessings were bestowed upon the Jewish people by Bilam.
Among them, while looking over the Jewish camp, he proclaimed, “How good are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!”
The commentaries explain that Bilam had noticed that in the Jewish encampment all of the tents of each family were positioned so that the openings should not be facing each other. This was done intentionally so that no family should have the urge to envy that which the other had. Allowing maximum privacy and keeping to themselves was a virtue which allowed them all to get along and live in unison.
The Jewish people understood that in order for each of them to have maximum productivity in their service of G-d, they all needed to stay focused on their mission. Involving themselves in somebody else’s affair would only hamper their own abilities to do their own job.
Think of it like a football game. Every player has his position. Each one has their unique roll to play. If the blocker would decide for a moment that the receiver is not doing his job and therefore he will go out to catch the ball, he risks not just neglecting his own position, but ruining it for the receiver as well! Each player has their role and they must not be concerned with the other. When everyone focuses on their own role, they form a great team that accomplishes the mission.
In life it is the same way. So often we are tempted to get involved in somebody else’s affairs. We are concerned that they are not doing their job. So we make it our business to tell them what they should be doing. We must take a lesson from the Jews in the dessert.
Set up your tent so that the opening is not facing your neighbor. Stay laser focused on your mission here in life. Do not constantly look at others in judgment of whether they are doing their job. When we all do that, we will be able to function better as a team and accomplish great things.
But then there is Pinchas. He had a moment when he realized all was at stake. He saw that the very essence of Judaism was under attack.
Pinchas was a Kohen, a priest. He was the grandson of Aaron who was known for his gentle and kind demeanor. It certainly was not in his natural instinct to be vengeful or to get involved in somebody else’s business.
But this was different. It was time to break the rules. He knew that now was the time to stand up and make a statement. He took action at a time when any action was needed, regardless of what his day job was.
It’s similar to an interception. When the ball is taken by the other team, drop your role, forget your day job, and if you’re in a position to do so, tackle the guy.
We all have moments when we are called upon to be the “Pinchas.” Of course, we must first and foremost stick to our job. But at times when all is at stake, don’t be caught up in what your day job is. Get out there and take action. Stand up for Judaism and everything that is holy. pjc
Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld is the dean of Yeshiva Schools and Lubavitch Center of Pittsburgh. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.