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    Hard to live with – Pinchas

    July 22nd, 2024

    Zealots are not easy company. They are too serious, too intense, too single-minded.

    You feel they have lost all sense of humour, all capacity for self-deprecation. They are so sure they are right and everyone else is wrong. Whatever the cause they believe in so firmly, you think they might serve it better by being a bit more laid-back.

    The first of the Biblical zealots was Pinchas. When he saw something intolerable, he couldn’t stand it. He had to stand up and speak up. He even took the law into his own hands and killed the people responsible for the hateful deed. Whether he became hard to live with as a result of his fanaticism, we cannot be certain.

    But one thing we know. God could have rebuked him and removed his priestly status, but He recognised why Pinchas had acted as he did.

    Said God, “Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aaron the priest has turned My anger away from the children of Israel, in that he was very zealous for My sake” (Num. 25:10-11). Pinchas the priest did not forfeit his priesthood. God understood and forgave him.

    What marked Pinchas is what Ignaz Maybaum calls his “messianic impatience”. Maybaum explains, “That is the messianic impatience which is a feature of the Jewish character. The Kingdom of God may come at any moment, and those who appear to be zealots may, if God wills it, become justified as true prophets”.

    To be messianically impatient does not necessarily mean storming the heavens and forcing God to send the Mashiach before He is ready. It does mean being the champion of truth, justice, peace and morality and making the world ready for the Messiah.

    That was Pinchas: he saw gross immorality in the camp and knew that it would hold back the moment when Israel would become “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”.

    It would help our age to have a Pinchas or two, not that they should go as far as Pinchas and carry out an act of physical violence, but insisting that there is such a thing as right and wrong and not remaining silent when “each person does that which is right in their own eyes”.

    Your new moons – Pinchas

    July 22nd, 2024

    A lengthy passage in the sidra deals with the laws of Shabbat, the festivals and Rosh Chodesh.

    All these calendar occasions became beloved companions of the Jewish people as they moved through the year. None was more important than another; all brought richness, excitement and symbolism to Jewish life.

    But Sforno points out there must have been some extra special link between the Jewish people and Rosh Chodesh, because the Torah says, “On your new moons…” (Num. 28:11), and the word “your” is not used in relation to the other festivals.

    One explanation is that Jewish experience was like the moon – small in size but immense in its contribution to the world; often thought to have waned but always renewing itself; and never completely independent.

    Status of the father – Ask the Rabbi

    July 22nd, 2024

    Q. Everyone knows that the child of a Jewish mother is regarded as Jewish regardless of who the father is. If both parents are Jewish, does the father determine any aspect of the child’s Jewish identity?

    father child patrilinealA. The father determines whether one is a Kohen (one of the priestly group), Levite (a descendant of the tribe of Levi, of whom the Kohanim are a section), or an Israelite.

    If the father is a non-Jew, the child is an Israelite even if the mother is from the family of a Kohen or Levi.

    If the father was born a Kohen but has compromised his status by entering into a union with, for example, a divorced person, he becomes a Halal and his son is not a Kohen.

    The child of (a) parents who are within the forbidden degrees of incest, or (b) a Jewish woman who, though still married to a Jew, had relations with a Jewish man other than her husband, is a mamzer. The mamzer is Jewish but has certain disqualifications when it comes to marriage.

    A child born out of wedlock – i.e. where the parents were not, but were eligible to be, married according to Jewish law – is not a mamzer.

    Since in Jewish law a person cannot indict him- or herself, a woman’s confession of adultery is not evidence unless supported by legally acceptable indications. The Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 2:2) says, “Those who are constantly disqualifying others as mamzerim are themselves under suspicion of being mamzerim, because people who are in the habit of disqualifying are only projecting their own defects onto others.”

    It adds, “People who are arrogant, cruel and misanthropic and do not treat their fellows with loving kindness are of questionable lineage, for Jews are supposed to be characterised by modesty, compassion and loving kindness.”

    Whisky on a Yahrzeit – Ask the Rabbi

    July 22nd, 2024

    Q. Why do Chasidim drink whisky on a Yahrzeit?

    A. First it must be said that although a Yahrzeit is a German term adopted by Jews in the late middle ages, the notion of commemorating the anniversary of a parent or teacher’s death was well known in the Talmud. The occasion was generally marked by fasting, though this has lapsed among many circles.

    The saying of Kaddish for the first 11 months after death is regarded as helping the soul to enter Gan Eden; on a Yahrzeit, according to the great kabbalist Isaac Luria (the AriZal), Kaddish elevates the soul every year to a higher level in Gan Eden. Hence Chasidim celebrate the fact that year by year the soul has experienced a spiritual ascent.

    A further reason which some give for a L’Chayyim on a Yahrzeit is that people feel depressed when they recall their loss and use spirits to raise their spirits.

    I have read somewhere that Rav Adin Steinsaltz says that whilst a death makes people think of the cup of bitterness, a cup of joy suggests a transition from death to life, an occasion for personal growth on the part of the mourners and a positive act of commitment inspired by the deceased.

    Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple z”l

    July 22nd, 2024

    Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple z”l passed away in January 2024. As an archive of the Rabbi’s written contributions across his many fields of interest, this site is a tribute to the man and his work. More information about his life is available in the About section. Y’hi zichro baruch.