The following concepts were gleaned from the Sfas Emes, and conversations with HaRav Moshe Shapira Shlit’a and Rav Amos Luban Shlit’a. Feel free to print this out and read it over Shabbos Kodesh, just please not during Tefilos!
At the end of last weeks Parsha we are told of how the debauched and morally denigrated women of Moav were sent into the Jewish camp to ignite the lusts of Am Yisrael. Tragically, they succeeded. The situation escalated to the point that Zimri, a man of esteemed stature as well as a spiritual giant beyond our comprehension, crudely and publicly gave in to his desires with a woman by the name of Cuzbi. It is on this appalling and heart-breaking event that the Passuk says, “V’Heima Bochim” – And the nation was weeping.
One man, Pinchas, didn’t just weep. He didn’t keep his anguish and outrage to himself. Romach B’Yado – spear in hand, he got up and decided to do something concrete about the situation. He literally drove the message home by raining on their promiscuous parade with a fatally penetrating stab of his spear. The imagery was crude but the message was clear: Compromises in Kedusha have no place amongst the Mamleches Kohanim.
Hashem commands Moshe to inform Pinchas his reward. “Hinini Nosein Lo Brisi Shalom” ‘See that I have given him My covenant of peace. He is to become a Kohein; a Priest. This is immensely unique being as at this point in history the priesthood was strictly familial. Therefore, to be rewarded entry into the Kehunah is a gift of radical proportions.
The question we need to ask ourselves is how does the reward fit the deed? We believe that HaKadosh Baruch Hu deals with the world in a system of Midah K’Neged Midah, meaning that every reaction from below stimulates the perfectly befitting response from Above. The reactions that Hashem grants our actions are literally tailor-made each and every time. What about Pinchas’ intense zeal and passion warranted specifically his receiving of the Kehunah?
Our answer, interestingly enough, begins with a Gemara in Perek HaRo’eh about an elephant. The Gemara there goes on at great length interpreting all sorts of different omens that one may see in a dream. As it would seem, there are many levels to the interpretations to these words of Chazal, and a universe’s worth of their depth belong to realm of the secrets of the Torah. That being said we can attempt to uncover some of their beauty.
“HaRoeh Pil BaChalom”, He who sees an elephant in his dream, “Pla’os Na’asu Lo”, Wonders shall be done for him. “V’HaRo’eh Pilim BaChalom”, and he who sees many elephants in his dream, “Pilei Pla’os Na’asu Lo”, wonders of wonders shall be performed for him.
The most surface-level connection between elephants and wondrous occurrences is strictly phonetic: Pil, the word for elephant sounds and awful lot like Pele, the word for a wonder.
But Chazal are not that shallow. They are by no means interested in wordplay. The fact that Pil sounds like Pele does not reveal to me any particular significance or depth. So we need to find something more.
The names that Torah grants to the innumerous creations in the world as a whole are not merely titles that sound nice. Rather, the names that Hashem gives are a matter crucial importance. The Hebrew name of any given object is a reflection of the truest nature of its essence. It derives its identity from its name. If its title were to be anything else then it would take on a different physical manifestation perforce. Therefore, we are required to say that the elephant is intrinsically wondrous. It is due to the Pele-oriented nature of the elephant that its name becomes Pil. The question then becomes: how?
At least once per day, each person in Am Yisrael makes the Bracha of Asher Yatzar – the blessing that thanks God for the amazing dynamics of the human body, and its total dependence on Hashem. That Bracha ends “U’Mafli La’asos” - Hashem is wondrous in His doings. Says the Rama, what is Nifla, wonderful, about the body? When we say Mafli La’asos, the intention is the wondrous fact that God connects to seeming opposites together. Spirituality and physicality, spirit and flesh, body and soul coexist and even compliment one another. This is the definition of Pele that strikingly profound miracle that Guf and Neshama can live together in one cohesive unit. This is Pele.
The elephant is unique, obviously, for the size of its nose. No other animal even comes close. And as we know, the elephant uses its nose like we use our hands. It feels around and picks things up with it. However, the interesting thing about the nose within the worldview of Chazal is that it is the most spiritual of all of the body parts. It is the sense of smell that was not blemished in the sin of the tree of knowledge. Says the Gemara, when one smells something it is soul that enjoys the scent, not the body. The end of Shabbos comes with the loss of the amplified double-soul, a source of great distress that can only be overcome by smelling sweet spices. The Navi tells us that Mashiach will be able to smell who has the proper type of relationship with Hashem. In short, the nose is a big deal. And the elephant displays it in a dramatic way. This is clearly then must be a symbol of tremendous spirituality. But amazingly it uses its wellspring of spiritual intuitiveness as a hand! There is a striking convergence of spirituality and physicality in how the elephant implements its uniquely metaphysical sense of smell in a totally down-to-earth practical usage.
And on a bigger level, the elephant – as any zoo keeper will tell you – is among the smartest animals in the zoo. There is well-recorded data that proves that elephants understand concepts like self-recognition, math and tool making in a way that puts them far ahead of the competition. Not only that, but there is a very special emotional sensitivity to the elephant as well. There is a strong’s concept of family which extends into the unique anomaly of their mourning, burial and periodical visitation their dead – a practice only conducted by elephants.
And all of this in such a tremendous body. Plain and simple – when it comes to land-walking animals, nothing comes close to the elephant. This requires no explanation. It’s a tremendous amount of sheer power and mass.
This ironic connection between weight and smarts is the very point that we were hitting at in our definition of Pele. The elephant uniquely embodies the fantastic, otherworldly connection between the spiritual and physical. The elephant is a Pil because it is a Pele.
This is all very nice – but what in the world does this have to do with Pinchas? The answer is that the Gemara in HaRo’eh, in the line before the one we just discussed says an amazing thing. “HaRo’eh Pinchas Ba’Chalom; Pla’os Na’asu Lo” He who sees Pinchas in his dream wonders shall be performed for him!
The meaning being that whatever the concept of Pele that we just developed is – it intrinsically applies to Pinchas as well. Let’s begin to tie things together.
Like we mentioned, during the moments that Cuzbi and Zimri were together the entire nation as a whole was shaken. There was a spiritual awakening among the people. They felt that this whole scene was wrong. But they didn’t concretize it. They didn’t bring it home.
Pinchas did. Pinchas, B’Derech Pele took this mass spiritual feeling and brought it down to earth. He made it real. He forged the connection between the nations inspiration and practical application. And because of this – HaRo’eh Pinchas Ba’Chalom; Pla’os Na’asu Lo!
This also explains why his reward was the entrance into the Kehunah. The entire role of the Priest within Judaism is to serve as the connection, the conduit between the people and God. Their extraction of holiness from animal sacrifice is the idealistic implementation of Pele. They are the hooking point between heaven and earth.
Chazal tell us that Eliyahu HaNavi is a future manifestation of Pinchas. They are intrinsically one soul with more than one historical expression. We are amazed by the soul’s presence in the body. That’s very novel for us. But, as the Navi explains, Eliyahu does one better – he takes his body and injects it into the heavenly realms of spirituality. Wonder of wonders. He, as we are told throughout Shas comes up and down between heaven and earth relaying messages, keeping that macrocosmic Pele-connection of heaven and earth intact.
Finally, on the most global scale, this is the depth of Brisi Shalom – Hashem’s Covenant of Peace that is promised to Pinchas. The word Shalom, peace, comes from Shaleim which means whole. Every object in this world has a specific role to play in the Divine Masterplan; we call this its Tafkid. The problem is that all too often pinpointing that spiritual essence in ourselves and the world around us is a delicate, nuanced and esoteric task. The world comes to Shalom when its multifarious details all become Shaleim, when they all make that special connection between their physical reality and spiritual purpose. The Bris Shalom is the promise to be a part of the forging of that connection. It is Avodas HaPele, the work ‘spearheaded’ by Pinchas that will manifest that endgoal.
Lo BaShamayim Hi – these concepts are esoteric but attainable. There is a spiritual reality, a wellspring of enthusiasm present in every Jew. There is a part of me that sometimes I feel (and sometimes I don’t) that wants so badly to do the right thing. In my essence, I yearn to be the unique Pinchas-like figure who stands up and makes a difference. That inspiration drives me, it pushes me, but it doesn’t pull the trigger for me, it doesn’t make it real. I need to make it real. I need to make that connection. I need to tap into my own personal Avodas HaPele, to take those big, shiny, hopeful dreams and aspirations of mine and turn them into something amazing.
HaKadosh Baruch Hu should give us the inspiration to constantly bring our potential into fruition. He should bless us to be in the proper headspace so that we can have the inner strength to make the micro and macrocosmic connection between body and soul. To forge that relationship of Pele in all of its levels; in the way that it pertains to me, the elements of the world around me and heaven and earth on the whole. If we can do this there is no doubt that we will live lives of Simcha and Shleimus, moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and ultimately the Geulah Sheleimah!