14 July 2017

Parshas Pinchas – The Thin Still Sound (corrected version)

By Roy S. Neuberger

Last week we discussed the words of Bilaam, which ring down through the ages: “Am levadad yishkon … Behold! It is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations.” (Bamidbar 23:9) The reality is that we are completely alone among the nations. Yishmoel hates us and Esav hates us, and we should never yearn for their love. The only affection for which we as a Nation should yearn is the love of the Ribono shel Olam, as it says, “Your love is dearer to me than all earthly delights….” (Shir Hashirim 1:2)

This is true not only on a national but on a personal level. The heroes of Am Yisroel, from the very beginning, had the fortitude to ignore the entire world and cleave to that which their intelligence told them was right and correct. The courage required for this is prodigious, as most of us know from personal experience. When I want to do something, I often wonder, “What will ploni almoni think about it?” The greatest tragedies in history occurred when people listened to other people without examining their actions. The possuk warns us, “Do not be a follower of the majority for evil.” (Shemos 23:2) 

Here are some prime examples: Adam listened to Chava, with catastrophic consequences. The ten miraglimlistened to each other and the people listened to them! Two weeks ago, we read about a case in which people encouraged each other to act contrary to da’as Torah“The people quarreled with Moshe Rabbeinu…” (Bamidbar 20:3) And last week we read, “Israel became attached to Baal-peor, and the wrath of Hashem flared up against Israel.” (Bamidbar 25:4) In the culture which surrounds us, the vast majority are glued to their cell phones, headphones, television screens and computer monitors, with their brains switched off. They go through life without thinking, like an endless herd of sheep. 

Now especially, during the Three Weeks, we have to snap out of this trance. “Hisna’ari mai’afar kumi … Shake off the dust (and) arise! … Wake up! Wake up!” (Lecha Dodi)

Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz zt”l describes the coming of the Chazon Ish to Eretz Yisroel in 1933: “The Chazon Ish led a one-man revolution with neither soldiers nor funds nor any organization structure at his disposal. His only weapon was his spiritual might and courage. Those weapons he employed not only in an uncompromising battle against the secularists, but against the reigning norms and conventions of the religious community as well. He succeeded in producing a generation of bnai Torah and paving the way for all the generations to come.”  (In Their Shadow, page 3) Regarding halachic decisions, the Chazon Ish said: “I do not rule based on public opinion, but by looking into the Shulchan Aruch. I am not even interested in what the public has to say and what it wants, because one doesn’t decide halacha based on what one sees in the street.” (ibid, page 14)

I recently came across notes on a conversation I had several years ago with Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch Shlita”h, Ra'avad of the Edah Hachareidis in Yerushalayim. Rabbi Shternbuch told me: “Make sure that you are not intimidated by anyone. Do not be afraid to say what you have to say…. You have to be willing to be ostracized for speaking the truth.” He made a comparison to the Levi’im, who were completely shaved like metzoraim before performing their avoda (see Rashi on Bamidbar 8:7). He told me that “a metzora is ostracized … and so you have to be willing to be ostracized for speaking the truth.”

We can understand how Pinchas became the ancestor of Eliyahu Hanovi (Yalkut Shimoni), who says, “I have been exceedingly zealous for Hashem, G-d of Legions, for the children of Israel have abandoned Your covenant….” (I Kings 19:10; this week’s Haftara) Eliyahu Hanovi constantly risked his life to serve Hashem.

What does it mean to be zealous for Hashem? It means that the Reality of Hashem’s Existence remains always before a person, so that his actions will be according to the Torah and not the ways of mankind. When Yosef Hatzaddik resisted Potiphar’s wife, the image of his father appeared before him, and he saved Am Yisroel. His Great Grandfather, Avraham Avinu, was willing to stand against the entire world to represent Hashem. In a previous generation, Noach saw that the world was ending and prepared for it. He was one of eight survivors. 

In a different context – lehavdil – I want to mention my father. He grew up in America without any exposure to Yiddishkeit, but he had an independent mind, which perhaps I inherited. This enabled me to see the world differently from my contemporaries and break away from their empty lifestyle. My father entered Wall Street in 1929, several months before the Market Crash which initiated the Great Depression. He survived that disaster because he saw clearly what was coming. He was a pioneer of the stock-trading technique called “selling short,” in which one expects the market to decline rather than rise. This is the opposite of the approach of the masses, who cannot comprehend the idea that the market could decline. My father was one of the few survivors of the Crash. 

Today, when the world is marching to the same mindless rhythms, we have to learn to imitate Pinchas ben Elazar. We have to ignore the loud, meaningless noise, and listen for the “still, thin sound” (I Kings 19:12; this week’s Haftara) through which Hashem spoke to Eliyahu Hanovi. 

The Word of Hashem is heard by a heart immersed in Torah. Thus Hashem tells us, “Shema Yisroel … Hear, Oh Israel.” May we all hear “shira chadasha … a new song” and see the Final and Complete Redemption speedily in our days!

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Roy Neuberger, author and public speaker, can be reached at roy@2020vision.co.il.

© Copyright 2017 by Roy S. Neuberger

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