Parashat Pinhas: Serving G-d Under All Conditions
Parashat Pinhas is, in the vast majority of years, read during the period of the Three Weeks, when we begin observing certain restrictions in solemn commemoration of the destruction of the Bet Ha’mikdash.
Rav Abraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apta (1748-1825), in his work Oheb Yisrael, suggests a connection between this Parasha and the three-week period we observe during this time of year. The latter portion of the Parasha, he notes, lists the special occasions when a Musaf ("additional") sacrifice was to be offered in the Bet Ha’mikdash. Specifically, this sacrifice is offered on Shabbat, Rosh Hodesh, the seven days of Pesach, the day of Shabuot, the two days of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, the seven days of Sukkot, and Shemini Aseret – a total of 21 days. These 21 days, the Apta Rebbe taught, correspond to the 21 days of the Three Weeks when we mourn the destruction of the Bet Ha’mikdash. Appropriately, then, Parashat Pinhas is virtually always read towards the beginning of the Three Weeks.
One approach we might take to explain this correspondence is that it teaches us a crucial lesson about our Torah observance – that it is required under all circumstances, both in joyous times, and in difficult times. The 21 festive Yamim Tobim are compared to the 21 days of solemn reflection on our national tragedies to remind us that we are to faithfully serve Hashem under all conditions, that even in life’s more difficult periods, we must be strong and resolute, and retain our devotion to G-d.
We wear Tefillin both on our arms and on our heads. The Tefillin Shel Rosh, worn on the top of the head, resembles a crown, and signifies pride, confidence and prestige. By contrast, the Tefillin Shel Yad is worn on the weaker hand (on the left hand if one is right-handed, on the right hand if one is left-handed), and thus represents frailty and vulnerability. We are required to wear both the Tefillin Shel Rosh and the Tefillin Shel Yad to remind ourselves that we must remain committed to Hashem at all times – both in times of strength, when we are successful, and in times of weakness, when we find ourselves beset by troubles and hardship.
When G-d revealed Himself to Moshe for the first time at the burning bush,, and commanded him to return to Egypt and inform Beneh Yisrael that their redemption was imminent, He instructed Moshe to tell the people that "Eh-yeh Asher Eh-yeh" (literally, "I shall be that I shall be") sent him to speak to them (Shemot 3:14). The Midrash, as Rashi cites, explains this to mean, "I shall be with them now, and I shall be with them in future crises." The Name "Eh-yeh" has the numerical value of 21, such that the phrase "Eh-yeh Asher Eh-yeh" may refer to the two periods of 21 days – the 21 festive occasions, and the 21 days of mourning for the Bet Ha’mikdash. On the eve of the Exodus from Egypt, one of our nation’s most glorious moments, G-d was informing the people that life is not always going to be joyous and festive. Nobody has a perfectly smooth life, without moments of disappointment, hardship and pain. We all go through different "21-day periods" – periods of joy and success, and periods of hardship. We are told that Hashem is with us throughout it all, that He is always helping us, and that we, in turn, must be devoted to Him throughout it all, both in happy occasions and in difficult times.
In the "Baruch She’amar" prayer which we recite each morning, we proclaim, "Baruch Gozer U’mekayem," which is commonly understood to mean, "Blessed is He who decrees and fulfills His decrees." But this passage has also been explained to mean, "Blessed is He who decrees and sustains." When G-d issues a "decree" that a person must face a certain challenge, He "sustains" that person, providing him with the strength, fortitude and resilience he needs to overcome it. G-d never gives us a test we cannot pass. When He places us in a difficult situation, He gives us the emotional strength to prevail.
We must not break when conditions are difficult, because Hashem believes in us and "sustains" us throughout it all. And so even in hard times, we must remain steadfastly committed and devoted to Him, no less than we are during periods of joy and prosperity.