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"Chazak, Chazak, ve-Nitchazeik!"

07/12/2018 04:10:50 PM


In this week's double parashah, Mattot-Masei, we find that HaShem commanded Moshe to send an army to wipe out the Midyanites: "And HaShem spoke with Moshe saying: 'Avenge the vengeance of the Children of Yisrael from the Midyanites'...."  What did Moshe do? The Torah tells us: "And Moshe spoke to the People: 'Arm yourselves men from the legion; and they shall engage Midyan to inflict the vengeance of Hashem upon Midyan.'"  Each tribe sent one thousand men out to do battle with Midyan, and they were led by none other than Pinchas, the zealot for whom last week's parashah was named.  Rashi, whose yahrzeit we commemorate this week, poses an interesting question: Why was Pinchas's father Elazar, who had just become the Kohen Gadol (the High Priest) after the death of his father Aharon, not sent instead?

With his assignment by Moshe, Pinchas was serving in the role of Milchamah Mashuach Kohen, the Kohen who leads an army into battle.  We find in Parashat Shoftim that before a Jewish army goes to war, the Milchamah Mashuach Kohen delivers a lecture which includes a kind of "pep talk," if you will, to the warriors about to go into battle.  Upon completion of this "pep talk," the Milchamah Mashuach Kohen is able to ascertain who should not be going into battle for whatever the reason may be.  Since most people cannot handle the sights and sounds of war, those who are determined to be too "soft" to handle the rigors of war were to be sent home.  In order to be successful in this endeavor of making such a determination, the Milchamah Mashuach Kohen must, on the one hand, be a warrior who is able to lead the troops bravely and fearlessly injecting a fighting spirit into the soldiers.  But he must also be able to lift up his soldiers in a spiritual sense.  One would think that such a job would be that of the Kohen Gadol and that it would have been Elazar who should have been sent.  After all, the succession of the Kohen Gadol was to go to the son.  Thus it was that Elazar succeeded Aharon.  However, because he is not the Koehn Gadol, when the Milchamah Mashuach Kohen dies, his son was to have no claim whatsoever to the job.  To expand on Rashi's question, why was the Kohen Gadol not automatically appointed as the Milchamah Mashuach Kohen?  Was he not the most spiritual and ethical of all the Kohanim?

To answer this question, we turn to one of the giants of European Jewry, the Chofetz Chaim, who answered the question with the following story: A community Rabbi passed away, and the kehillah (congregation) wanted to hire a great scholar to succeed him.  While being capable of handling the job, the son of the deceased Rabbi was not as accomplished a scholar as the other candidate.  As a result, a bitter fight erupted between the deceased Rabbi's family and the kehillah.  The issue was brought before the Chofetz chaim for a solution.  The Chofetz Chaim ruled that in "ordinary" circumstances, the son would inherit the father's position.  "Ordinary" circumstances are those in which the Rabbi was to deliver Divrei Torah (Torah sermons) on Shabbat Shuvah and Shabbat HaGadol spending the rest of his time ruling on questions pertaining to halakhah (Jewish Law).  Such work required no great scholarship.  But, said the Chofetz Chaim, the present circumstances required the Rabbi to overcome the secular, anti-Torah forces that sought to harm the Jewish community.  One cannot assume that the son of any given Rabbi would be able to lead his community in the battle needed to withstand and defeat all the anti-Torah forces that threaten to destroy the Jewish community.  Therefore, the kehillah should hire the great scholar.

In our own day and time, I have seen first hand what is needed to be a modern Milchamah Mashuach Kohen,.  Today a Rabbi must help people "do battle" with what seeks to do harm to or even destroy the Jewish people.  Today, a Rabbi must inspire and lead in order to maintain loyalty to and unity within the People Israel.  My hope is that as we approach the coming new year, may all of us at CSS be one in service to both Hashem and to the People Israel.

Tue, July 27 2021 18 Av 5781