At the point that depravity meets its nadir we find Ba'al Peor, an idol quite unique in its worship-- defecation for deification. The braissa quoted in Chagiga 16a (Avos d’R’ Nosson, ch. 37) relates that humans have three things in common with the animal kingdom: eating and drinking, piryah v'rivyah, and hotza'as re'e. While we can be mikadesh our eating, drinking, and piryah v'rivyah1 throughout the year, explains R’ Shimon Shalom from Amshinov,2 we can never really fully sanctify the act of going to the bathroom.3 Even on Yom Kippur, a day that entails complete abstention from food and drink as well as marital relations, we can never completely personify the celestial angels because of our necessity to excrete bodily waste .

That is why, continues the Amshinover Rebbe, Chazal4 declare that most tzaddikim die by cholei mei’ayim, bowel and intestinal problems. After all, tzaddikim surely sanctify all parallel acts to the animals;5 the only aspect thus remaining- and, therefore, the only means the mal’ach ha'maves has at his disposal- is closely related to being motzi re'e.

With this in mind, we could perhaps understand the flow of the gemara recorded in Nedarim 22a. The gemara relates that, "one who gets angry will be ruled by all sorts of gehinnom"6-- but it does not stop there. The statement continues, "and not only that [the gehinnom], but his intestines/bowels will also rule over him." What is going on here? The gemara seems to be implying that bowel trouble is worse than all sorts of gehinnom!

Based on the aforementioned, however, perhaps we can suggest as follows: One who becomes enraged will surely be punished in the future by the purging process of gehinnom. After all, becoming enraged is likened to actual avodah zara worship.7 But in addition, even in this world he will be constantly plagued by bowel problems, a sign intended to demonstrate that he has manifested his resemblance to animals by shedding his “da’as”8 and allowing his emotions to rule over, rather than be subjugated to, his intellect. If one is filled with fury and thereby ignores this particularly human quality, then HaKB”H will show him that even in Olam Hazeh he has, to a certain degree, shed his tzuras ha'adam and will be constantly reminded by this highlighted animal-like characteristic.9 He will have to pay the price not only in the next world, but even in the present one, he will have forfeited his lofty status as a tzelem Elokim.10

Hence, the purely animalistic side to all humans is best exemplified by the act of going to the bathroom, the one animal-like characteristic that can never be fully elevated above the mundane. Furthermore, the Ramban and Maharal both explain that our tzelem Elokim is manifest in that only humans can stand fully upright- thus emphasizing the seichel’s dominance over the entirety of the guf- in glaring contrast to the members of the animal kingdom. But yet, when man is motzi re’e, he first crouches or sits—because it is in the midst of excretion that he always demonstrates a resemblance to the inferior animals…

Only someone who has shed any semblance of inner sanctity, of an innate, lofty, human status, can center his godly worship on this public expression of his animal-like tendencies. This naturally leads us right up to Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz's well-known piece on Ba'al Peor (Sichos Mussar, Parshas Va’eschanan), in which he expounds on the idea of this idol's capacity to allow for total hephkei’rus, the utter shedding of all moral inhibitions.11 One forfeits his exalted human status through such deplorable and depraved displays of allowing his animal-like side to completely take over.12

When the generation of those who stood at Sinai lived up to their description as the “dor dei’a,” however, they simply had no need to excrete bodily waste. They ate the heavenly manna- “lechem she’mal’achei ha’shareis ochlin bo”- which was miraculously absorbed within their system. When they acted like angels, they resembled these celestial beings even to the point that they consumed the identical food; and thus, like the angels, there was no need at all for animal-like hotza’as re’e.

Naming the Idol

1. Focusing now on the idol that stripped them of their dignity, we encounter the following difficulty: If we were now to select a name, a short title, perhaps, that, in lashon hakodesh, would successfully capture the essence of this deity, would we not then opt for one that focuses on this despicable public display of defecation? Indeed we might do so but we happen to find otherwise. And the name ultimately given surely warrants further scrutiny.

The appellation branded to this idol is that of Ba'al Peor. Its meaning? Rashi- based on the Sifri- commenting on Balak 25:3, avers that it is so named because they "reveal"13 the pi hataba'as and are subsequently motzi re'e. The title thus accorded the statue is not for the hotza'as re'i, the actual defecation- something that might have resulted in Ba'al Tzoah, Ba'al [Hotza'as] Re'e, or the like- but rather for the preceding act of "revealing" the pi hataba'as. This point is even more clearly articulated in Bamidbar Rabba (#23—and see Sanhedrin 60b) which records: "...ha’po’er atzmo l'ba'al peor- zo he avodaso," without any mention of defecation whatsoever. What exactly does this tell us about the true essence of the "Peor" worship?

Some background information is called for: How did so many Jews succumb to this depraved act? Surely such animalistic behavior must follow a process of gradual deterioration, the upshot being merely an outflow of some perverse harbinger. For this we once again turn to Rashi, this time focusing on his comments two pesukim later. Rashi –once again based on the Sifri- informs us that it was only during the ma'asei z'nus with b’nos Moav that the Moabite women were able to lure the men into worship of Peor. It was only once the men succumbed to z'nus that worship of Peor was able to materialize.14

Ma'asei z'nus are encompassed within the rubric of "gilui arayos." The lashon of "ervah" itself, explains the Maharal, is one of "gilui,"15 thus resulting in an act of "gilui she’bigilui."16 And what is "gilui?" The more something is mechusa and mutzna, covered and concealed, the more of a ma'aseh gilui that takes place. An act of z'nus, therefore, is essentially a display, a revelation, of that which is mutzna be'yoser. The violator is revealing too much of himself, specifically the area he is enjoined to keep especially mechusa; when revealed, there can be no recital of krias shema, no acceptance of ohl malchus shamayim, and no connection with HaKB”H through any verbal tefilla. Only on the heels of a gilui arayos do we ever find the baser gilui of a Ba'al Peor. Once the individual has already revealed his makom mechusa beyoser in an act of arayos, the worship of a Ba'al Peor- merely a continuation of this gilui, albeit on a more pathetic level- can take place. Ba'al "Peor." Yes, indeed, its worship essentially is one of revealing, an act of revealing made possible by, and merely a gradual deterioration of, the initial act of gilui arayos.

Rabbeinu Ephraim, an eminent medieval commentator on the Torah, writes that the four mentions of "Peor" in the beginning of parshas Pinchas correspond to the four expressions of sin associated with Peor at the end of parshas Balak. One of these is the z'nus with b’nos Moav. In light of the above, we can readily understand that the ma'aseh znus was much more than just another sin; it was, in fact, a cheilek of "Peor," an integral and necessary forerunner to its worship, and thus can naturally correspond to one of the four mentions of "Peor." The essence of both is, after all, one and the same: the notion of deplorable gilui, of sadly revealing that which is meant to remain hidden.

Based on this elucidation, we can readily understand the gemara (Sanhedrin 64a) that, while a gentile woman worshipped all the world's avoda zara but abstained from the abhorrent worship of Ba'al Peor, B'nei Yisroel fell prey to this disgraceful act. How is such a distinction possible? If we understand Ba'al Peor as an extension of the gilui of arayos, however, then it is quite feasible. The nachris, motivated purely by the petty pursuit of idolatry, was capable of refraining from such a pathetic display of her animalistic side. B'nei Yisroel, on the other hand- already ensconced in the lure of gilui arayos- merely allowed their level of gilui to continue degenerating to yet another- albeit baser- level. Once the prohibition of gilui arayos has been transgressed, a further revelation of one’s makom mechusa in a display of hephkei’rus might very likely be just around the corner.17

Enlightening Associations

2. Which land is forever characterized as "she’tuphei zimah," the place where gilui arayos was overly rampant,18 and upon which the pasuk "zir’mas su’ssim zir’masam" (Yechezkel, 23:20) was said?19 Mitzraim, of course, the land with a leader- the symbol of the people ("melech" read backwards is "kulam")- whose title is always that of Pharaoh.20 And what is "Pharaoh?" The etymological root is pei/raish/ayin, the classical usage of the word "reveal."21 Quite interesting, then, that a country in which gilui arayos ran so rife is precisely one whose leader's title denotes the very act of "revealing."22 (Interesting, too, that the entire episode of z'nus with b’nos Moav was only made possible by the lure of flax, something that enticed the Jewish men because it reminded them of the flax in Mitzraim-- see the Maharsha's comment on Sanhedrin 106a, where the account of this episode appears.)

3. Chazal in parshas Balak seem to be turning our attention to the parsha of Sotah. Yalkut Shimoni cites the opinion that the place of z'nus was called "Shittim" because it could be read as "Sittim," an allusion to the sotah, the adulterous woman discussed back in parshas Naso. Similarly, the Ba'al HaTurim notes that "Shittim" shares the same root as in Naso: "...ki sisteh ishto..." What exactly is the sotah suspected of? A ma'aseh of "gilui arayos." And, as part of her punishment for this immoral act of gilui, we read of the kohen being "POREI’AH" (once again the same pei/raish/ayin shoresh) her head: "...u'phara es rosh ha'isha..." (Naso, 5:18), revealing the woman’s hair as a means of humiliation. Midah kineged midah. Gilui tachas gilui.23

Even her drink is made from the "aphar"(ayin/phei/raish, the same osiyos as "parah," just intermingled…) of the mishkan, dirt obviously symbolizing the gashmiyus side to man, the purely animalistic component to our being. She has acted like an animal, highlighting her beastly side; her demise will therefore come through aphar, the material ground from which man arose before his lofty soul was placed within its confines. Chazal also liken her to a bi’heima when pointing out that her sacrifice will be one of barley-typical animal food- for she has performed a ma'aseh bi’heima. Her disgraceful act of gilui has rendered her animal-like, a befitting description for those culpable of blatant displays of gilui ervah.

4. Now let us rewind to the story of Yosef. Yosef is known to all as "Yosef HaTzaddik," the individual who upheld the yesod habris, who brought the koach of resisting z'nus into the world.24 He was being enticed by... no, the Torah never tells us her name-- she is only known to us as “the wife of Potiphar.” That is ostensibly the only information we need to know. But even his name was not really Potiphar by that point any longer. His name had been changed earlier to "PotiPHERA," for, as Rashi (Miketz, 41:45- based on Sotah 13b) tells us, he had attempted to sodomize Yosef and became castrated as a befitting punishment. Sifsei Chachamim further notes that the inference is drawn from the lashon of "phera," the addition of pei/raish/ayin (meaning to reveal) onto his original name. Specifically because of his attempted ma'aseh z'nus- gilui arayos- he gets a “gilui" added to his name. It is by overcoming the seduction of the wife of such an individual that the koach of surmounting all attempts at gilui arayos could be brought down into the world.

Interesting, as well, is the prefix of "Poti," a term we only find in one other place. The shevatim ridiculed Pinchas as the ben "Puti" (spelled the same), referring to the enthusiastic level of Yisro's ("Putiel") idol worship,25 in which he would fatten up the animal in preparation for an optimal sacrifice (Sotah 43a). So too, we might suggest, POTIphera symbolized the enthusiastic level of "gilui" that so dominated Egyptian life.26 In fact, besides the generic "Pharaoh," it is the ONLY Egyptian person's name (excluding, naturally, that of Asnas- who, according to some opinions, was really Dinah’s daughter- who married Yosef27) ever mentioned in the Torah in connection with the entire story of Egypt! Perhaps that phenomenon is meant to have us note that Potiphera himself symbolized what all of Egypt was really about. We need to know of no other names; this name itself alludes to what the essence of all Egyptians was based upon-- the notion of overwhelming and enthusiastic gilui. “POTI”phera. We'll hear only about "the daughter of Pharaoh," "the wife of his master," the butler and baker, advisers, etc., but never any specific names.

In contrast to a "POTIphera," Yisro- according to Chazal originally one of Pharaoh’s closest advisers28- leaves the influence of “POTIphera’s” Egypt to become "PUTIel" (same prefix), one who channels his overwhelming enthusiasm into maximizing instead his avodas Hashem. An appropriate appellation indeed.

5. Yosef HaTzaddik is not the only one associated with bris milah. In fact, it is Pinchas/Eliyahu, the same individual according to many opinions,29 who occupies the spotlight at the bris milah ceremony.30 (Let us also keep in mind the opinion in Chazal- Bava Basra 109b- that Pinchas descended from Yosef who battled, and overcame, the yetzer hara of gilui arayos.31) Taking a quick look at the nusach appearing in siddurim, we notice that the mohel, early on, recites the first three pesukim in parshas Pinchas that recount the turning away of Hashem’s anger through the action of Pinchas. Yes, we're back to Moav. And, as Rashi had told us back then, the ensuing harsh plague was the "charon aph" of Hashem coming in response, primarily, to the worship of Ba'al Peor. (The Rambam, in fact, writes that "charon aph" is only used in conjunction with avodah zara32- see Moreh Nevuchim, 1:36).

Interesting then, that at the bris milah ceremony- a ritual consisting of both a ma'aseh chaticha and a "PRIYAH" - we begin with mention of how Pinchas was mi’sakein not only the ma'aseh z'nus (tikkun habris),33 but the ma'aseh of Ba'al "PEOR" as well. He was mi’sakein the acts of gilui, and thus we quote those very same pesukim at the outset of our ritual consisting of a chaticha coupled with a "priyah"- priyah mi’lashon gilui.34 We then proceed immediately to the description of Eliyahu as the Mal’ach HaBris, for it was only through the ma’aseh of Pinchas concerning Moav that Pinchas 'became' Eliyahu, as seen from Pirkei D’R' Eliezer (ch. 47) and Targum Yonasan ben Uziel (parshas Pinchas, 25:12).

6. We fast-forward now to the story of Rus. Rus jettisons all ties to her past and opts instead to cling to Na'ami. Her colleague, however, is not able to break with her roots, feelings of her Moabite upbringing swelling within and holding her back. Who is this figure that is unwilling to rid herself of the tum’ah and

z'nus of Moav? “Arpah.” The exact same osiyos as "Paroah," the very same letters used to signify the concept of gilui, the very fabric of Moabite culture as well.35 And what befalls her soon after? Chazal36 inform us that, on her return journey, she was involved in gilui arayos- indeed a deplorable ma'aseh z'nus- and the ensuing offspring? None other than "GALYas," the notorious Goliath, lashon gilui…37

Fascinating to note, as well, is the Zohar Chadash on Rus (79a- the B’nei Yissaschar cites a “medrash”), that before Rus converted and attached herself to Na’ami, her original Moabite name was none other than Gilis (lashon gilui)-- the name of a princess, after all, must encapsulate her nation’s essence... While Rus manages to tear herself away from her Moabite past and sheds her original name of “Gilis,” Arpah returns to that very same nation of their upbringing, and is quickly ensnared in a horrific act of gilui of z’nus that yields a “Galyas”… And the ‘intermingled’ osiyos of ”Paraoh”/”priyah” that comprised her name now unravel and reveal their true colors…

Peor. Pharaoh. Pri'as ha’rosh of the sotah and the accompanying Aphar. Potiphera. Arpah. The common denominator is one of gilui, an act of revealing that can tragically reduce man to animal-like status. It takes a sacred priyah of a milah ritual and other positive, sanctified acts of revealing to be mi’sakein the baser forms of gilui. But the general rule is Micha's declaration (6:8- just three pesukim after Bilaam and Shittim are mentioned by the navi), that the primary course of action is always one of "Hatznei’a leches im Hashem Elokecha." Hatznei’a leches- walk in a modest and concealed fashion-- and never b'galui.

No surprise, then, that the haftorah of this week’s parsha discussing Ba’al Pe’or ends with those very words… "

Add comment

Have something to say?
Please make your comment below!
All comments are reviewed prior to publication. Absolutely NO loshon hara or anything derogatory or hurtful to anyone will be permitted on the website.


Security code
Refresh