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The start of this sedra follows the end of last sedra; Pinchas has just killed Zimri, the prince of Shimon, for his sin with Kozbi the Midyanite princess - and with this Pinchas stopped the plague that HaShem had sent. HaShem makes it clear that Pinchas was correct to do what he did, and He enumerates reward that Pinchas will receive for his heroism; a share in the kehunah (‘priesthood’).

The pasuk tells us that Pinchas was rewarded when ‘…bekano es kinasi’ (25;11), the meaning of which is disputed. Rashi tells us that this means that Pinchas took vengeance for HaShem, whilst the Orchos Tzadikkim (sha’ar ha’kinah) understands that Pinchas was jealous on HaShem’s behalf. Either way, we see the utilisation of a middah (character trait) which is ordinarily negative, for a positive use here.

This is our subject of discussion; why can bad character traits be used for positive spirituality? [The vast majority of this comes from Rav Dessler and Rav Miller] Let’s broaden the subject via some sources; we shall take this trait of jealousy as our prime example. It is not a pleasing thing to have bad middos, to say the very least. One major Rav used to sharply comment that the reason why there is no one clear pasuk in the Torah which prohibits having bad middos is that ‘it is obvious; the Torah is talking to a mensch (person). Without decent middos, there is no mensch, so there is no-one for the Torah to talk to!’

And the Vilna Ga’on writes that correcting middos is the job of this world (the correction takes place via mitzvos). A ‘middah’ literally means a ‘measure’ for it is the measure what kind of person one really is.

Regarding the negativity of the middah of jealousy, we are told that it ‘removes a person from this world’ (Avos 4;28), and the gemarra (brachos 7b) expresses David HaMelech’s warning (Tehillim 37) ‘do not be jealous of those who do wrong to be like them.’ Thus, one would be forgiven for feeling justified in assuming that one should keep away from the middah of jealousy.

However, we are told ‘do not be jealous of sinners, rather of fear of HaShem all day’ (Mishlei 23;17) - in this context and facet, we are advised to positively be jealous. Why should this be and what is the logic behind this? Before we do so, let’s deepen the issue somewhat…
Rav Dessler would say that all bad middos are creating differences between people. For example, jealousy stresses the difference that someone else has something which I do not; one cannot be jealous of something that you have already, because there is no difference to pick up on - I do not know of anyone who is jealous that their friend has two ears, because they have two ears themselves.

Similarly, the middah of ga’avah (‘haughtiness’) is centred around the difference one creates between them and others in thinking that they are superior. And vengeance is when someone takes revenge for something someone else did that they themselves do not do or have not done; otherwise it would not be so hateful to fuel a desire for revenge. Thus, if the Torah approach is one which stresses the removal of bad middos, the Torah is essentially telling us to ignore differences which exist.
This poses a major problem; the Torah is called ‘Toras Emes’ (the Torah of truth; birkas hatorah), and the gemarra tells us that ‘the signature of HaKadosh Baruch Hu is emes’ (Shabbes 55a). In fact, the Zohar comments that the way we lein the ten commandments creates an audible pause in the sentence; ‘do not…kill,’ ‘do not…kidnap,’ etc. The reason, says the Zohar, is to convey the idea that sometimes one must do these acts when necessary; one may kill to save life, or kill amalek, or to kidnap someone from a place in which he is in danger, etc.

Thus, we lein it with a pause as if the ‘do not’ can be completely divorced from the ‘kill,’ as might be necessary in life in certain circumstances. But regarding the (eighth) commandment not to bear false witness, there is no such pause; the Torah is teaching us that falsehood is to be avoided at all costs, even for ‘positive’ use [“changing for the sake of peace” is different]. In short, the Torah is antithetical to falsehood, and as such, how can the Torah of Truth tell us to ignore differences which exist, which is a cover-up of truth - a falsehood?

Even more pressing than this is the fact that we see that even the covering up of any partial portion of the truth is called a lie. We see this from an episode involving Shaul HaMelech and Shmuel HaNavi.

After Shaul fails in his task of wiping out Amalek, Shmuel tells him that ‘HaShem has torn the kingship of Israel from you this day, and has given it to your fellow who is better than you’ (Shmuel Alef 15;28). Shmuel here was secretly referring to David, the next King of Israel, albeit the reference was in a covered-up manner.

Towards the end of sefer Shmuel Alef, Shaul HaMelech is on the verge of going to war to defend Bnei Yisrael from the Philistines, but before doing so wants to know whether he will be successful. Since Shmuel had died already, Shaul secretly goes to a witch to temporarily bring Shmuel back from the dead so that he should tell Shaul whether they would be successful in war or not. In the resulting conversation, Shmuel tells Shaul that him and his sons are to die in this war [which does occur], and Shmuel reveals that ‘HaShem has torn the kingship from your hand and has given it to your fellow, David’ (28;17). Chazal reveal to us the longer version of their conversation that ensued at this point. Shaul asks Shmuel why he did not tell him when he was alive that David would be the next King, to which Shmuel replies with the key sentence [for our subject] ‘when I was in the world of falsehood I spoke falsehood, but now that I am in the world of truth, I shall speak only truth.’ We see that Shmuel calls his earlier description from perek 15 of the next king as ‘your fellow better than you’ as a ‘falsehood’ (lie). What was the lie here? It was the mere fact that Shmuel covered up David’s identity and instead referred to him in a roundabout way as ‘your fellow better than you;’ even though this description was true. Consequently, we see that a partial cover-up of the entire truth has the definition of a lie in the Torah’s eyes.
If so, the above question becomes much more searching and painful; how can the Torah of truth tell us to cover up [true] existent differences if this is, by its own definition, a falsehood?
Rav Dessler reveals the answer here. He notes that the Torah looks at things from an infinite perspective; ie with the knowledge and viewpoint that this world is transient and that what really matters is that which will last for eternity and on an infinite level; spiritual achievements.

For example, a table in the Torah’s lens has no value whatsoever, for it will last for perhaps 50 years out of a maximum of infinity. The mitzvos done around a table, for example [benching, saying divrei torah, oneg shabbes etc,] though do have a value in the Torah’s eyes because they will last forever - past this transient physical world. The idea is reflected in by the Malbim at the beginning of Chumash. He writes that though some refer to the creation of the world as a creation of ‘something from nothing’ (yesh me’ayin), in [spiritual] reality, it is the opposite. Before the world was created, there was only HaShem and nothing physical.

When the world was created, HaShem made a void where he held back his Presence, so to speak, and in it created the world. Thus, from an eternal and spiritual perspective, HaShem created nothing (the physical, deteriorating, world) from Something (Him). [We can appreciate this idea nowadays relatively simply. A football player can be brilliantly talented, but if he is 34 years old, then he will not cost much money.

On the other hand, a relatively promising 16-year old can cost millions, because their value is based on how many years they will last, and one year of playing is not the same as a potential long-term investment of fifteen years. And the same goes for stocks, shares, business buy-outs, relationships, friendships, etc; one learns to value things based on their ability to last. So too does the Torah value a physical thing as a nullity in effect, for compared to an infinite number of years then it is nothing.]
Using this principle, one can return to our main two questions; how can the Torah command the ignoring of truths/differences? And why are we told to use bad middos for spiritual pursuits?
The Torah, indeed, never tells us to ignore a difference that exists. The thing we do not realise is that from the Torah’s perspective and viewpoint, physical differences, which we said were the root of all bad middos, do not really exist. On an infinite scale, taking into account the years one has in this world in comparison to the years beyond this world, does it really make a difference that someone else has a newer car than yourself? Or that one has a bigger nose than someone, or that someone else managed to do something that you did not? The answer is that it does not matter on the infinite scale, and as such the Torah views such a car (etc.) as something which does not really exist; it has no value on an infinite scale. Thus, the Torah in warning us not to develop bad middos, is not telling us to lie, for those physical differences that are the root of bad middos are themselves non-existent differences. On the contrary, you are displaying falsehood by valuing them as something that really exists! But the Torah does say one may/should be jealous of spiritual achievements [yiras shamayim], for those are differences which do exist on the infinite scale of things - it will make a difference after one hundred and twenty if one had yiras shamayim or not, and the same goes for the achievement of any mitzvah.

In short, where a difference really exists (spirituality), the Torah tells us to stress it, but where a difference does not really exist, the Torah warns us not to stress it (physicality, bad middos).
This is what Pinchas did; he used this unwarily negative trait of jealousy/vengeance and applied it to be used in an area where there was a genuine spiritual difference, using it against a mass sin, and was rewarded and stopped the plague as a result.
A practical lesson to take out of this is to try and start using the Torah’s ‘currency exchange’ / value system to start valuing things in life. To define what is good and bad and what choices one makes based on what is worth it and has real value on the infinite scale. In the words of David HaMelech put it (and appropriately we say it in a house of morning) ‘Fear not when man grows rich, when he increases the glory of his house, for upon his death he will not take anything, his glory will not descend after him’ (Tehillim 49;17-19). As Lord Rothschild once responded to someone who asked him how rich he was by showing the visitor notes of the sums of money he had given to charities; ‘This is what will accompany me when I leave this world,’ he commented.
Have a great Shabbes,