פרשת פנחס

Just then one of the Israelites came and brought a Midianite woman over to his companions, in the sight of Moses and of the whole Israelite community who were weeping at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.
When Phinehas, son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest, saw this, he left the assembly and, taking a spear in his hand,
He followed the Israelite into the chamber and stabbed both of them, the Israelite and the woman, through the belly…
The name of the Israelite who was killed, the one who was killed with the Midianite woman, was Zimri son of Salu, chieftain of a Simeonite ancestral house.

Don’t think for a moment that Zimri was an adulterer, God forbid! God would not give such a person mention in the Torah. There must be a secret within…

There are ten levels of licentiousness. The first level is where one fancies himself up and sets out intentionally to sin, which essentially means he willingly follows his sexual urge. After this though, there are nine other levels, each one with progressively less free choice, and it becomes impossible for him to escape from doing the sin.
The tenth and final level is one who has distanced himself from his sexual urge entirely. With all his might he has guarded himself from sin until it is impossible for him to protect himself anymore. When his sexual desire overcomes him and he commits such an act, this certainly must be the will of God.

Look at Judah and Tamar. She was his soulmate. It is the same scenario here too. Zimri guarded himself completely from all wicked desires. And now he understands that [Cosbi] is his soulmate, because he can no longer resist her and from being with her.

However, Pinchas claims the opposite – that it is still in Zimri’s power to resist being with her. This is alluded to in the Talmud (BT Sanhedrin 72b), “Six miracles were done for Pinchas,” and we learn there that had Zimri killed Pinchas on that day, he would have been exempt from punishment. In reality, there was equal weight to both sides. One could argue, and many in fact did, that Pinchas was acting from a place of rage and anger. In a case that is equally strong on either side, Jewish law has a principle of Shuda D’Dina, where the judge is able to side with the party closest to him. It seems that Pinchas was found innocent because he is related to Moses.

This is why the text mentions the name of the slain Israelite. God wanted to make clear to Pinchas after his action just who he was fighting with, lest he think that he was killing someone who was purely an adulterer, God forbid!

Pinchas comes from the seed of Joseph, who strive to perfect themselves via asceticism and through trials just like these. Therefore, Zimri’s actions look devoid of any and all good. On this, the verse states (Hosea 11:1), “I fell in love with Israel when he was still a child,” which fully describes God’s relationship with Pinchas.
He judged Zimri to be an adulterer and nothing more, and ruled that any zealot who encountered him was justified in killing him. However, the depths of what was motivating Zimri were entirely hidden from him, which was that in the six days of creation it was decided that Cosbi was Zimri’s soulmate (as is explained by the Arizal). This action was so deep that not even Moses wanted to sentence him to death.

Pinchas acted like a child. He did not know the depths of Zimri’s action. He could only see what was on the surface and nothing more. Nevertheless, “[God] fell in love with [him] when he was still a child.” and agrees with him, for in his mind he did a great thing by acting with zeal and risking his own life.



This is by far the most famous Ishbitz torah, and not without good reason. Just look at what he is saying:

  • Zimri was justified in acting such a way, AND it was preordained since the time of creation.
  • Pinchas was wrong to have killed him.
  • And if it wasn’t scandalous enough, the Ishbitzer bases this on the principle that sometimes, when a urge to sin is so strong to the point that we can’t resist it any longer, it must be the will of God!

I don’t want to take away from the radical reading given here. It flies in the face of what we are traditionally taught about this story, and spells out what look like very precarious ideas if we are to take them seriously. But there is also such beauty and wisdom the Ishbitzer is giving us by shocking us and making us take notice, helping us open ourselves up to seeing things with new eyes.

This teaching is about Pinchas and not Zimri. About how he acted, and about how we are not to act. The Ishbitzer gives us the idea that a person can work so hard, do everything she can to resist acting a certain way, and yet she still goes through with it. In that case, when all those criteria are met, it is the Divine will. In such situations, we should always be fastidious in asking ourselves “have I actually done everything I can to resist?” and only we can know the answer. Which is entirely the point. Only the actor can know the truth of her actions. It is not for us to judge.

Or it is not for us to judge like a zealot, acting blindly and from a place of anger and rage.  Pinchas is acting like a child. He kills based only on what he sees without asking the deeper question of Why? Why would someone do this? Why would s/he act this way? Is there something I’m not taking into account, something I don’t know, and will that have an impact on how I deal with the situation?

What makes this case so remarkable, and why it is such a powerful teaching, is just how bad it looks on the surface. In our own lives, when we are confronted with those deplorable things that make us furious and our blood boil, even the gravest of injustices, we have to be willing to pause for a moment and see what’s going on within. Are we acting from a place of anger, or are we acting for the sake of peace? Are we open to being wrong about this person or situation and what they are doing? Are we capable of holding many truths at once that sometimes have undesirable outcomes? Can we erase rage from our hearts and work not for ourselves or just what we think is right, but for the sake of the whole world?



Link to originial Hebrew text


פרשת ויקהל

Moses then convoked the whole Israelite community and said to them…
On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord…
Take from among you gifts to the Lord; everyone whose heart so moves him shall bring them—gifts for the Lord

The reason the Sabbath is mentioned first before the construction of the Tabernacle is that the construction of the Tabernacle connected the heart of every person in Israel to one another without even a hint of ego.

Initially, each skilled craftsperson made his or her specialized contribution, and it was apparent that every piece was truly remarkable. Afterwards, when all the individual twists and ties were joined together, they saw how each thing fit perfectly, as if it was all made by one person. They realized that everything they had done was not because of/for themselves – it was only the hand of God guiding their handiwork, and this is why there was a perfection of form in the completed building. How is it possible to feel superior over another when it was made only with the help of God?

The Talmud (BT Megillah 9a) relates the story of King Ptolemy gathering the 72 elders [to translate the Torah into Greek, independent of one another] who all acted as one mind and made the same emendations to the biblical text. It seemed to each one that he had uncovered a profound and deep wisdom in his changes. When it was revealed that they had unearthed the exact same insights, they understood it all had been God’s will.

This is why the Sabbath is placed in relation to the building of the Tabernacle, for the essential principle that connects them is the commandment of the Sabbath. The Sabbath underlies any commandment done with the intention of being for the sake of Heaven, as this intention is called “Sabbath.”

So too with the construction of the Tabernacle. All their work was to glorify Heaven to allow the Divine Presence to dwell with Israel. It was this that joined their hearts together, for the Divine Presence would not reside there if even one peg or rod is missing. Therefore, it wasn’t possible to feel superior to another at all, even the one who constructed the Holy Ark compared to the one who made the pegs of the outer courtyard, as it says in the Talmud (BT Sotah 40a), “What do you care? Through this and this the Most High is praised!”

And this is Moses then convoked the whole Israelite community.


Link to original Hebrew text

פרשת תרומה

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts

This is what is meant by the verse (Isaiah 45:18), “For thus said the Lord, the Creator of heaven who alone is God, who formed the earth and made it, who alone established it — He did not create it a waste, but formed it for habitation,

In the weekly reading of Yitro, when the Israelites heard the Ten Commandments, it appeared easy to do them all because the commandments seemed to depended only on a person’s actions. When they heard all the subsequent rules in the reading of Mishpatim and grasped that God desire His holiness and devotion be manifest in the essence of the Israelites down to the very objects they owned, to the point that they would be unable to do anything contrary to the Law [as has been explained in the section on Mishpatim “Now these are the ordinances…”], they cried out within “How is it possible for a person to purify his heart in this way??”
So God gives the people the advice “bring me gifts…gold, silver, and copper.” The Zohar (Exodus 148a) teaches that these three types correspond to the foundations of a person. It is describing one who gives over all of his strength and support to the Divine and allows God to rule over him according to His will. If so, even his possessions will be good and upright and no harm will come from them!

The Zohar (Numbers 121b) expands this idea. On the verse (Psalms 32:2), “Happy the man whom the Lord does not hold guilty, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” this is one whose spirit/life force inclines only towards the Divine will. If he were to question how it is possible to purify his heart to such an extent, the response comes from the verse in Isaiah (ibid.) He did not create [the earth] a waste. God does not desire for a person to have fear in his heart.
This is how to understand the following verse (Isaiah 45:19),

I did not say to the stock of Jacob, ‘Seek Me out in a wasteland – I the Lord, who foretell reliably, who announce what is true.’

I did not say to the stock of Jacob, ‘Seek Me out in a wasteland – To this, the previous verse responds He…formed it for habitation לשבת, meaning that a person should have a settled mind ישוב הדעת.
I the Lord, who foretell reliably, Who announce what is true – Even though God desires a person to be righteous and blemish-free in all his ways, and to uphold the entirety of the commandments and the Law, nevertheless He refers to Himself as the Lord, who foretell reliably, who announce what is true, meaning He has uprightness and a generous heart towards a person, and gives him advice on how to come to all the words of the Torah with ease.


Imagine what it must have been like for the Israelites. They just experienced the revelation at Sinai, and as magnificent as it was, it did not ask SO much of them. Just do these ten essential things and everything will be fine. A week later though they are saddled under a mountain of rules and strictures that govern every aspect of their lives: courts, loans, damages, food. They doubted they could ever do it. It was so much so fast it made them want to scream.

Here is where the Ishbitzer steps in. He says “I know it’s a lot. It’s so much that you’re crying on the inside and afraid and wondering if you should just give up.

Yes. Just give up.

Stop fighting so much. Let your will drop away and live for something more. This work is not supposed to be hard. It only becomes crushing when we are always pushing against it. Trust that God wants you to be settled and at peace, and also believes you are capable of so much. More than you realize is possible. He doesn’t put us in a world that is too much for us, where every facet of our being isn’t singing out and we can’t give all of ourselves in abundance. Maybe the more we let go, the more we say yes to the world and just give of ourselves without always asking why or how much, the easier it all gets.


Link to original Hebrew text