Parashat Pinhas- The Missing Day of the Bein HaMesarim
Parashat Pinhas is almost always the first parasha of the Ben HaMesarim, the three weeks between the fast of Shiva Asar BeTamuz and Tisha BeAv. Of course, we don’t believe that there are coincidences, and therefore there must be a reason why this parasha is read during this time period year after year. We might suggest that despite the focus on the tragedies of the Jewish people, we are always aware that there will one day be redemption. This redemption will occur in two stages- first through the coming of Eliyahu HaNavi, and concluding with Mashiah ben David. Pinhas, as the Talmud teaches, is compared to Eliyahu. As these Three Weeks begin, we are reminded of and encouraged by an awareness of the final redemption, to be ushered in by Eliyahu, who is compared to Pinhas by the Rabbis.
Furthermore, the Talmud teaches that one is not permitted to destroy a bet hakenesset unless another synagogue has already been built. Therefore, we must believe that if God destroyed the Holy Bet HaMikdash, there must be another Temple waiting to appear. Indeed, we say in our Yom Tov prayer, “and You shall show it to us built, and we should rejoice in it being fixed.” Parshat Pinhas reminds us to think of the geula, the promised redemption, even at the beginning of these three weeks.
On a deeper level, the Apter Rav, in his Ohev Yisrael, notes that Parashat Pinhas contains the all of Jewish holidays, including, in order, Shabbat, Rosh Hodesh, Pesah, Shavuot, Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret. All together there are twenty one festive days. He writes: “These twenty one days between Shiva Asar BeTamuz and Tisha BeAv correspond to the twenty one holidays mentioned in the parasha.” Apparently, he means to say that these twenty one days upon which we mourn the absence of the Bet HaMikdash will one day be celebrated with the festive sacrifices mentioned in our Parasha.
However, there seems to be a small yet significant problem with this interpretation. If we include Tisha BeAv, there are actually twenty two days during the Ben HaMesarim!
Rav Zadok Hakohen, in his Peri Zadik (Parashat Matot), explains that these three weeks are unique since God Himself is also in exile, and He is closer to us; it is a therefore a time conducive to spiritual growth. He further explains that the twenty two days of the Bein HaMesarim (i.e. including Tisha BeAv), correspond to the twenty two letters of the alphabet. These twenty two letters are the letter with which the Torah is written, and they are therefore the twenty two letters of the Torah. If so, we might suggest that the Temple was destroyed because the Jewish people rebelled against the aleph-bet, i.e. against the Torah which was written with twenty two letters. As these twenty two days correspond to the twenty two letters of the Torah, on each day is a day we atone for the sins of our forefathers. The Kinot, said on Tisah BeAv, are alphabetized in order to emphasize this very point.
I would like to take this a step further. The Talmud teaches that on the 17th of Tamuz, Moshe Rabbeinu came down from Har Sinai, saw the Jewish people worshiping the golden calf, and threw down the tablets (luhot). The Rabbis teach us that once the letters of the Torah lost their value, the tablets became “dead weight,” which Moshe Rabbeinu could no longer hold, and he therefore threw them to the ground. The Talmud teaches that all of the letters of the alphabet appear on the first tablets, except for the letter “tet”- which does appear on the second set of tablets.
What happened to these letters? The Rama MiPano explains that these twenty one letters contained the entire Written and Oral law. However, when Moshei Rabbeinu threw down the tablets, the letters of the tablets dispersed around the world. In other words, the letters of the Torah are spread, in potential, around the world, waiting to be actualized and redeemed.
Interestingly, there is one letter which was not thrown to the ground, the letter “tet”- which represents the word “tov” (good). The word “tov” is sometimes used to describe Torah- “ki lekah tov natati lachem”. Had the letter “tet”, representing Torah, been cast to the ground, the Jewish people may never have been able to repent and move forward.
During the Ben HaMesarim, for twenty one days, we mourn the missing twenty one letters - the twenty one letters written on the luhot which were smashed on Shiva Asar BeTamuz. Tisha BeAv, however, does not correspond to a letter, as it represents the potential for good, the “tet” which wasn’t destroyed. Although on Tisha BeAv we sit as mourners, Tisha BeAv is described by Megillat Eikha as a “moed,” a potential festival, and therefore, after hatzot (noon), we already sit on chairs and begin to focus on the nehama, the consolation of the “tet,” the good which we will one day celebrate on Tisha BeAv.