HaKadosh Baruch Hu
Who Loves Converts
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פינחס בן אלעזר בן אהרן הכהן השיב את חמתי מעל בני ישראל בקנאו את קנאתי בתוכם ולא כליתי את בני ישראל בקנאתי. וכו’, ושם איש ישראל המכה אשר הכה את המדינית זמרי בן סלוא נשיא בית אב לשמעני.
Pinchas, son of Elazar son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the Bnei Yisroel by displaying among them his passion for Me, so that I did not wipe out the Bnei Yisroel in My anger… The name of the Israelite man who was killed, the one who was killed with the Midianite woman, was Zimri son of Salu, chieftain of a Simeonite ancestral house (Bamidbar 25:11,14)
The Torah relates an episode that took place in the midbar where a nasi of Shevet Shimon faced a tremendous challenge and he publicly did an act that shouldn’t have been done. We have to understand that he did it with a cheshbon. It wasn’t that he just fell into a ta’avah. You have to know this man, Zimri, was 250 years old. He was past the ta’avah stage. But Pinchas came along and took his life. Pinchas performed a ma’aseh kanaus, an act of zealotry and he speared them both with a spear.
The passuk says ושם איש ישראל המוכה, and the name of the Jewish man who was smitten with the Midianite woman was Zimri ben Salu נשיא בית אב לשמעני, he was from the chashuve people of Shevet Shimon.
Chazal (Tanchuma, Pinchas 2) ask why the Torah tells us the mishpachah from which this fellow came from. Of what relevance is it to us? Was he the pride and joy of his family? Of course not. So Rashi says that in a place where you mention a tzaddik, you mention him leshvach – you say a praise about him.[i] If at the same time you’re meyaches reshaim, you relate the story of reshaim – you are meyaches them legenai, for the detriment or shame. So, when we assign praise to Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon Hakohen, we are also meyaches the rasha legenai. That means, just like the tzaddik is a pride for his family and a glory to his parents, so, too, the yichus of the rasha is a genai, to the detriment and the shame of his family. So the shaylah is what is the purpose of this? When we mention a tzaddik, why do we relate what family the tzaddik comes from? What’s the reason for that? The answer is because that’s his shorashim. These are his roots. The tzaddik grew up in this wonderful household so we mention his parents. So the next shaylah is what’s the reason that you mention the rasha‘s parents? Is it his parents’ fault? Can we say for every rasha that it is his parents’ fault that he became like this? So what’s the purpose of relating his genealogy? Is every rasha a result of his family? How can that be? A person has his own bechirah!
The Amazing Chiddush of Rav Chatzkel
I’m going to share with you something that Rav Chatzkel Levenstein, zecher tzaddik levrachah, said. He said (Yad Yechezkel, Pinchas 26:14) that the Torah comes to teach us an important principle.[ii] Let’s say a person does an evil act, the most heinous act, for which he incurs the death penalty, a shanda and a cherpah. And while he’s doing this act, he leans over and he takes a cup of stam yeinam shel akum and he gulps it down. It wasn’t avodah zarah wine. It was just yayin from a goy. Do you think that Hashem will say, “Listen, forget about that wine. That’s a small aveirah. You know what? You did such a disgraceful and heinous act, that we’re only going to charge you for the big one.”
Rav Chatzkel says that the Torah is teaching us here that Hashem is going to hold you responsible for the smallest infraction that you do! If a guy is doing a disgraceful act and he reached over to the bed stand and he took a swill of water and he didn’t make a brachah on it, Hashem is going to hold him responsible for that aveirah, completely independent of the other, more serious aveirah! He said, over here the Torah wants to teach us that this man Zimri not only was responsible and held accountable for the disgraceful act that he did in public, but he’s going to be charged with another indictment of being mevazeh, of dishonoring his family! It doesn’t make a difference how big of a rasha you are – you will be held accountable for the lesser infraction as well.
Now, this error is one which I encountered many times in my career. You meet a person who is going off the derech or went off the derech and you say to the guy, “It’s bad enough you’re mechallel Shabbos. Why must you eat treif? What do you have to eat treif for?! You have a yetzer hara to eat treif?” So you know what the guy says to me? “You know what kind of aveiros I did? I have such a cheshbon with Hashem that eating treif is going to be nothing.” I said, “My friend, you are making the error of your lifetime. You’re going to be held accountable for every single tiny aveirah you committed!”
Here’s a guy who is a kofer bechol haTorah kulah. The guy is over giluy arayos, shefichas damim, avodah zarah, rachmana litzlan. If somebody would ask him, “Do you think Hashem is going to hold you responsible for not making a brachah on water or on your coffee, or do you think Hashem is going to hold you responsible that you were not kovea itim laTorah?” the guy will say, “Kovea itim laTorah – are you out of your mind? I don’t do any mitzvos here.What are you talking about?” So you have to know Hashem is going to ask about every single little thing![iii]
Getting Sucked In by the Yetzer
If you look into Chazal and the sefarim, you’re going to discover that it’s one of the biggest fallacies of wicked people. I’ve said to many of them, “Why don’t you just do the aveiros you have the yetzer hara for? But for those that there’s no yetzer hara involved, control yourself!” I once had a talmid, a very nice fellow, that was נכנס בו רוח שטות. But in that case, he got it from his family. His family was rotten to the core, even though they wore big shtreimlach. He had an older brother, a real chatas, who undertook to be a choteh umachti es harabim and to encourage and assist people in becoming frei. His younger brother told me, “My older brother is a nut. He’s a sicko.” I told him, “He’s not sick. He’s sicker than sick. He’s dumb too.” “No, he’s very smart,” his younger brother argued. “No, he’s not smart,” I said. “The guy is choteh umachti. What do you gain from this? He makes no money from this. He’s a rasha leshem rishus. What does he gain from assisting a young, chassidishe boy to go off the derech and become a sheigetz? Does he gain something from that? No. He’s mamash a lehachisdik. You must have nothing to do with him.” He said, “Rebbi, you have nothing to worry about. I can’t stand him.”
He got married to a very fine young bas Yisrael from a wonderful family. They had four children. One day the wife came home on Rosh Hashanah to find her husband on the computer. She called me up, “What do I do?” I said, “Did you ask him what he was doing? Maybe he forgot it was Rosh Hashanah?! Maybe he thought it was Purim or something.” So she said, “No, he didn’t forget. He just said, ‘I’m fed up. I’m not going to be dishonest anymore.’” Oh, מדבר שקר תרחק, an ish emes! Ah, gevaldig! The middah of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, חתמו אמת. So he decided it was time to throw off the yoke. The house was kosher because the wife kept kosher. A couple of weeks later I had a friend of his call him up and ask him why he was eating treif. What does he gain from that? Is it because it’s cheaper? He said, “No. I eat treif simply because I can.”
Now, I was picturing every bite that he chews. He takes a bite out of a horse burger and he eats a kezayis of horse meat and he says, “I can.” He’s going to acquire all the middos of the susim, and I’m telling you, be’emes he was a nice fellow. I told him, “Whatever you do, don’t do things that you’re not challenged by.” I sent him a message. He responded that he didn’t want to talk to me anymore. You know how heartbreaking that is? Do you know how tragic that is? Mamash tragic.
The Rambam’s Advice for the Ages
People commonly make this mistake. The Rambam wrote a famous Igeres Hashmad for the Yidden of Yemen who were facing shmad. They were being forced to give up their Yiddishkeit. The Rambam wrote to them that even though in public they were being forced to behave like goyim, rachmana litzlan, but lechol hapachos they should be careful to do every single thing they can beseser, in secret, in the privacy of their homes. The Rambam writes as follows: וישם בין עיניו, one must put between his eyes, and pay attention, לעשות ולקים מן המצות מה שהוא יכול, and even if it happens that he’s transgressed most of the Torah or chillul Shabbos, he shouldn’t move muktzah that he doesn’t find it necessary to, ולא יאמר, and he shouldn’t say, מה שעברתי עליו, that which I transgressed is much greater than moving a little muktzah. I’m not careful about that. אלא יזהר מכל מה שהוא יכול, he should be careful from whatever he can.[iv]
A lot of people say to me, “Either you do everything or you do nothing.” Have you ever heard that saying? “I don’t want to play games. I’m not shomer Torah umitzvos. I went off the derech already.” A shoteh what you are! If you lose $1000, do you take your next $500 and throw it in the toilet also? Only a nut does that. What are you doing that for? This is one of the great wiles of the yetzer hara. You have to know when you come before beis din shel ma’aleh they will make a cheshbon on every single mitzvah and every single aveirah, and the Rambam writes, “What I’m telling you now is not only relevant to someone who is forced to transgress the mitzvah. Maybe since he’s an onnes and you think, what he can do he should do.” No. He says, “Even a person who is a רשע החוטא במזיד, a guy who is a rasha and he’s a willful sinner, you should know he’s going to have to face a din vecheshbon on every single ma’aseh that he didn’t do or that he did do.” He writes even if a person did aveiros chamuros like Yeravam ben Nevat, who was choteh umachti gantze Klal Yisrael, and this person thinks, “Trust me, Hashem is not even interested in my little aveiros. Those are freebies.” Zogt the Rambam שלא יאמר אדם קים ליה בדרבה מיניה, לא יאמר זה אלא בדיני אדם בעולם הזה אבל השם יתברך נפרע מבני אדם על החמורות ועל הקלות ונותן שכר על כל דבר שעושין – Hashem gives sechar for every single good thing you did and He will collect from you for every single aveirah as well. So a person should not think that his mitzvos are worth nothing and his aveiros aren’t so important.
“Why Didn’t You Learn Kabbalah?!”
There is a story with the Vilna Gaon who was one time walking with some of this talmidim. They passed a Jewish house that had music coming out from it, at an inappropriate time. It wasn’t a yontif, etc. He could hear them playing with instruments. He told one of his talmidim to go inside and see what’s going on. He came out and told the Gaon that there was a porek ol inside, a guy who threw off the yoke of Torah and mitzvos and he was dancing with shikses. The Gaon said, “This rasha is going to have to give a din vecheshbon why he didn’t learn kabbalah. Someday he’s going to have to answer why he didn’t learn ma’aseh hamerkavah. But it won’t be the first question they’re going to ask him. He’ll have to go through plenty of Gehinom until he’s purified and then the last question he’s going to have to face is, ‘Nu, so why weren’t you, צפית במרכבה , why didn’t you look into kabbalah?’”
I want to share with you a common misunderstanding that many people have about the gemara that says Hakadosh Baruch Hu is מדקדק עם הצדיקים כחוט השערה – Hashem is exacting with the tzaddikim to a hairsbreadth (see Rashi, Sota 13b). There’s no leeway. No slack. So you know the conclusion many people reach from that? That with reshaim Hashem is not medakdek so much. Hashem overlooks the kalos, on the small aveiros, but with a tzaddik, He’s medakdek. You have to know, chalilah vechalilah to say such a thing!The gemara says in Bava Kama (50a) whoever says that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is mevater, Hashem lets aveiros go and He lets wrongs slide, he is going to get himself overlooked. The gemara (Chagigah 5a) also says Hakadosh Baruch Hu is שוקל קלות כבחמורות – He weighs every kalah like a chamurah. So then what’s the pshat? There’s definitely something unique about talmidei chachamim.
Rav Chatzkel explains that the gemara Berachos (64a) says that a talmid chacham has no menuchah, לא בעולם הזה ולא בעולם הבא.[v] You know why? Talmidei chachamim are constantly in growth mode. They never stop shteiging and in order to shteig you have to purify yourself and you have to refine yourself. You have to graduate to the next madreigah. So because they have to keep on going up, they constantly need challenges, purifications and refinement. And therefore, the reshaim who are on a very low madreigah, Hakadosh Baruch Hu doesn’t bother them right now; He lets their little aveiros go until later, and only deals with severe ones for now. But if you have a tzaddik who has baggage, even with just a small aveirah, that baggage holds him back from going to the next madreigah. But the rasha who is not going anywhere, he is stagnant, so Hashem only deals with him now on the more serious aveiros.
Making the Proper Cheshbon
You find stories in Chazal about people who left this world and came back, only to relate that Hashem challenged them for one time being masiach da’as from the tefillin that they were wearing. For one hesech hada’as! A Yid is not supposed to be masiach da’as when wearing tefillin. Hashem said, “If We’ll refine you from this problem you’ll be able to go up higher.”
So if you look at reshaim and it seems that they’re not being so challenged, you have to know that Hashem is going to look at them for their chamuros, and Hashem is going to come to challenge them and deal with them for those chamuros. But for the kalos, Hashem will come to collect from them later on, just to purify them, to cleanse them from that baggage.
This Zimri, who did an aveirah befarhesyah, was from the chashuvei mishpachas Shimon and Hashem said, “You’re going to be held responsible for bringing genai, for bringing disrespect for your family.” So here’s a child that goes off the derech. You know what he thinks? “I’ll take the hit for my sins. I’m not afraid of my sins.” Hashem says, “You’re going to pay the price for the pain you caused your parents. You’re going to pay the price for bringing a genai upon your family. You’re bringing shame upon your family!”
That’s what a person has to know. Even though it seems like such a small thing next to the big thing, with Hashem, there’s no such bargains. So everyone had better use their minds and think about this. And you have to realize that if there’s no strong yetzer hara for you in this particular aveirah, you have to know that it’s a much worse aveirah. As an example, if you take a drink of water and you don’t have a big yetzer hara not to make a brachah, but you choose to drink it without a brachah. Not making the brachah on water is worse than drinking a cup ofwine which was questionably touched by a goy that you have a gevaldige yetzer hara for – because you heard this wine is a $700 bottle and you heard it’s as rare as anything. In reality it’s probably just a counterfeit bottle of wine that nobody knows about.
(I was reading an extensive article about how much counterfeit nonsense there is in the wine business. A guy pays more than $10 a bottle for Asti Spumante. I just read about wine tasters and wine experts, you know what they’re called? It’s a special name for a connoisseur of wine. Do you know what that means? I don’t know. The article said they took fifty of the biggest wine connoisseurs and they gave them many different red wines and many different white wines and they all spit out the same nonsense. About the red wines they all said wood flavor, berry flavor, a taste of blueberry and the other thing they said citrus. They said it’s this. They said it’s that. They gave all the same nonsense. Then they took the bottles away. They took the white wine and put it in red food coloring and now they gave it again to these “experts.” They described berry flavors, wood flavors – the exact same wine. Aza sheker. When I see a guy swishing his bottle of wine around in front of his nose and he’s trying to figure out on his palate what kind of flavor it is – tell him this is mouthwash, that’s what it is. It ain’t nothing other than mouthwash. I’m tasting mouthwash with minty flavor, with hints. I mean this is such nonsense and they make such a “torah” from it and there are so many people who go for this nonsense).
So, to come back to our example, of comparing aveiros. To the guy who didn’t make a brachah on wine he really craved for, they’re going to say: “For drinking the wine, it’s going to be less of an aveirah, because for that you had a big yetzer hara.” But for not making the brachah [on water] he’s going to get punished geferlich because what yetzer hara is there not to make a brachah? It takes you five seconds to make a brachah, ten seconds to make a brachah. Why don’t you make a brachah?
So a person should not be foolish and have to pay for things later on which were not worth the price. A person shouldn’t imagine for one second that Hashem is going to be mevater on anything. You have to do teshuvah and you have to correct, and you have to fix it all.
The Bottom Line
Rav Chatzkel, zt”l, taught that a person who commits serious aveiros, for which he will undoubtedly bear responsibility, will also be accountable for much lesser infractions, like not making a simple brachah on a cup of water. This may seem insignificant and counterintuitive to us, but we have to remember the numerous Chazal, that state that Hashem is not mevater on anything. Now we can understand why Zimri – besides committing the most serious and disgraceful aveirah in public – was also charged with a lesser infraction of dishonoring his family and why the Torah mentioned his father’s name next to his. This coming week, I will (bli neder) think about a few areas of my Avodas Hashem where I am not as challenged by my Yeitzer Hara, and where I can improve without too much effort or difficulty, such as coming to shul a few minutes before davening, starting my work or my seder on time, making sure to make brachah achronah, or brachah Asher Yatzar, etc. Doing a proper cheshbon hanefesh in the area of “מצות קלות” will, IY”H, not only help me appreciate all the mitzvos and minhagim, no matter how small, but will also lessen the grip of the Yeitzer,to allow me to become a better keli, in order to align myself closer with Hashem’s ratzon.
[i] ושם איש ישראל וגו’. בְּמָקוֹם שֶׁיִּחֵס אֶת הַצַּדִּיק לְשֶׁבַח, יִחֵס אֶת הָרָשָׁע לִגְנַאי (תנחומא)
[ii] ושם איש ישראל המכה (כו, יד). ופי’ רש”י במקום שייחס את הצדיק לשבח ייחס את הרשע לגנאי. עכ”ל. ההבנה בזה שאין נאבד שום פרט קטן ממעשה הרע ואפי’ כשעושה מעשה שיש בו חיוב מיתה וגנאי גדול עדיין תובעין ממנו כבוד משפחתו. [וכמו שהביא הרמב”ם ז”ל שיתבעו מירבעם בן נבט שלא ישב בסוכה ולא קיים עירובי תבשילין. ויש להוסיף כזה שהמשפט עם הרשע הוא שמגלגלין עליו כל ענייני רע שיכולים להאחז במעשהו. וכן אנו מוצאים ברבינו יונה שע”ת בעיקר הח’ שמביא כמה ענינים שמסתעפים ממעשה חטא אחד כמו למשל “איך לא היה פחד אלקים לנגד עיני” “הייתי על הנפש היקרה אכזרי” וכו’ וכו’. וכל מה שפורט שם, כל דבר הוא חטא ועבירה בפני עצמה. ובצד הטוב הוא על דרך זה דמי שעושה מעשה טוב מגלגלים עליו כל מיני זכיות בעד פעלו. ועד”ז אמרו במד”ר על הפסוק “צדקתך כהררי א’ משפטיך תהום רבה”. דעם הצדיקים המתנהגים במדת צדקה וחסד כהררי א’, ואפי’ הטוב שעדיין לא עשו מחשבים להם כאלו כבר עשוהו, וזהו מפני שעומדים לעשות טוב. אז כבר אוחזים בכל הטוב. ולהיפך העומר אצל הרע אף בתחילתו אך מכיון שכבר משתייך להרע כבר נחשב כאלו אוחז בכל הרע. וזהו שאמרו חז”ל עומק הדין מכוסה מבני אדם דאין לנו מושג במהלך המשפט].
[iii] The following story is recorded in the Sefer Keser Rosh (authored by a talmid of R’ Chaim Volozhiner), in Ma’amar 5, siman 11. “When the ‘Chasid’, the Gr”a was sitting and learning in an inn, a Jewish apostate walked in and asked for a beer; the Gaon instructed the owner not to give the man the drink until he made a bracha. The apostate refused, claiming that he was now like any other gentile who drinks without blessings. Hearing this, the Gaon responded, ‘You are a fool. The fact that you are an apostate doesn’t excuse you from the details of even a small mitzvah. You are still considered a full-fledged Jew, and as such, you will be punished for all your committed sins that you are deserving of, and the atonement will not help you. [As the Rambam says in the Iggeres Teiman]. And even after everything will be atoned for, you will still be punished continuously until you will be totally cleansed, so that you will remain a Jew, as it stated, ‘the seed of Avraham will never be destroyed’ and as the verse says, ‘and I will make you into a great nation, etc’ and all the nations of the earth will bless themselves through you.’ When this apostate heard these words emerge from the holy mouth of the Gr”a, zt”l, he was very shaken, and did teshuva to become a ‘kosher Yisroel’ and an eved Hashem, with emunah and taharah.”
[iv] אבל מי שבא לישאל אותנו אם יהרג או יודה אומרין לו שיודה ולא יהרג אבל לא יעמוד במלכות אותו המלך אלא ישב בביתו עד שיצא אם הוא צריך ומעשה ידיו יעשה בסתר כי מעולם לא נשמע כמו זה השמד הנפלא שאין כופין בו כי אם על הדבור בלבד ולא יראה מדברי רז”ל שיאמרו יהרג ואל יעבור ואל יאמר דבר אחד שאין בו מעשה אבל יהרג כי אשר יחיבוהו לעשות מעשה או על דבר שהוא מוזהר עליו וצריך מי שעבר עליו זה השמד להתנהג באלה הענינים שאני מציע שישים בין עיניו לעשות ולקיים מן המצות מה שהוא יכול ואם אירע לו שעבר הרבה או שחלל שבת לא יטלטל מה שאינו מותר לטלטלו ולא יאמר מה שעברתי עליו יותר גדול מזה שאני נזהר ממנו אלא יזהר מכל מה שהוא יכול ותדע שצריך האדם לידע עיקר מעיקרי הדת והוא שירבעם בן נבט והדומין לו נפרעין ממנו על עשיית העגלים ועל בטול ערובי תבשילין והדומה לו שלא יאמר אדם קים ליה בדרבה מיניה לא יאמר זה אלא בדיני אדם בעולם הזה אבל השם יתברך נפרע מבני אדם על החמורות ועל הקלות ונותן שכר על כל דבר שעושין על כן צריך האדם לידע שכל עבירה שיעשה נפרעין ממנו עליה וכל מצוה שיעשה מקבל עליה שכר,כו’ (איגרות הרמב”ם, מאמר קידוש השם)
[v] אמר רבי חייא בר אשי אמר רב: תלמידי חכמים אין להם מנוחה לא בעולם הזה ולא בעולם הבא, שנאמר: ״ילכו מחיל אל חיל יראה אל אלהים בציון״.