Thursday, July 17, 2008

No Substitute For Listening Well

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Recently, I was in someone’s home when the mother served ice cream to everyone. When she was done, she gave the container to one of the children and asked him to put it in the freezer so that the remaining ice cream wouldn’t melt.

An hour later, the precocious child sheepishly came to his mother and said, “Mommy, I think you should give out more ice cream now.”

“Why?” asked the mother.

“Because it’s melting,” responded the young lad.

“How can it be melting?” the mother asked. “Didn’t I ask you to put it in the freezer?”

“Because, um, Mommy, you see, there wasn’t room in the freezer, so I put it in the refrigerator,” said the boy.

The poor child didn’t realize what he did wrong. He thought his mother would be happy with him.

A story is told of an Israeli makolet (grocery store) in the 1950s. Someone came in to the shop and asked for herring, and the proprietor gave him a can of sardines.

“I asked for herring, not sardines,” the man protested.

“I know,” answered the storeowner. “But you’ll like this better. It’s much tastier.”

Well-intentioned people often err because they don’t heed instructions. They mean well, they believe by improving on the request or directions they are doing the right thing. Instead they hit the wrong note, or end up making more of a mess than doing anything beneficial.

It sounds elementary but it still needs to be said: In order to be a good person and do well, one needs to carefully follow instructions. Without improvising. Without interpreting. Do as you are told and be sure you understand what is wanted from you. When you substitute your own agenda for what the other person requested from you, or seek the easy way out, you fail. When you try to read the person’s mind and to divine what he really meant to say, you cease to be a messenger. You become a person who cannot be relied upon to complete a mission.

The Gemara in Sotah (47b) says that when the number of egotistical students increased in the beis medrash, the disputes involving halachic matters increased. Rashi (ibid) explains that a haughty person doesn’t lower himself to pay special attention when his teacher speaks, for he presumes he can rely on his own intelligence when it comes to determining a course of action. Such a person is prone to making serious errors of judgment, all the while claiming he is merely following what he was taught.

People of this sort increase machlokes in Klal Yisroel.

Pinchos ben Elozor ben Aharon Hakohein observed Zimri’s outrageous conduct and remembered the halacha his rebbi had taught. He was a humble student who had nullified his own ego; thus he was confident that he had learned the lesson properly and could uphold the halacha with pure motives. Only in this way was he able to bring shalom to Klal Yisroel. Without hesitation, without stopping to ponder the consequences he might suffer from the act he was about to commit, he found a spear and stabbed it through Zimri.

Kano’im pogim bo. The letter of the law does not demand such radical action. Only those whose hearts are pure and burn with a fervent love of G-d are entrusted with the prerogative to take radical measures when faced with such an exigency.

Those who have not achieved that rare greatness of character; those who are not wholly dedicated to following the L-rd’s dictates and who are not totally attentive to their masters’ teachings, are urged to stand aside and do nothing. Those who do not fully comprehend the will of the Creator are not relied upon to break the protocol to right a wrong and return a people to the righteous path.

Only individuals such as Pinchos, who are totally subservient to halacha and selfless in their fealty to Torah, can bring an end to plagues that smite the Jewish people when they sin.

It is only people who are shlaimim in their service of G-d who can ignore the opinions and demands of the hoi polloi in order to do what is correct and proper.

Pinchos was rewarded for his act of kano’us with the bris shalom, covenant of peace, to demonstrate to the naysayers who mocked him that Hashem testified that he had acted as an ish hashaleim - and an ish hashalom. His act of zealotry came from a perfect man’s desire to achieve shalom, and not a thirst for blood, or glory, as his detractors alleged.

Aharon Hakohein was the paradigm of the ish hashalom, the quintessential man of peace. He was by no means a meek, timid person who lacked the physical ability or mental acuity to fight with people, and who by default chose the role of pacifist seeking to make peace between feuding brothers.

On the contrary. Aharon Hakohein was a tall and strong leader of men who wielded enormous influence over people. He utilized his strengths to bring about peace between fellow Jews and between man and G-d. Because of his devotion to peace, he was chosen to be the kohein whose sacred avodah, the offering of korbonos, brought about reconciliation between Hashem and the Jewish people.

His actions created the conduit through which forgiveness and love flowed from Above to the person whose sinful actions estranged him from G-d.

Though he was a grandson of Aharon, Pinchos wasn’t chosen as a kohein and given the mandate to heal the separation between a sinner and G-d until he had slain Zimri. With this courageous act, he demonstrated his total dedication to the will of Hashem and attained a new spiritual level. He showed that he was a worthy messenger who was committed with every fiber of his being to upholding his rebbi’s teachings.

He carried out his mission without “personalizing” the act, neither adding or omitting anything or investing his own ego into it. Only a person of such humility and spiritual stature could effectively carry out the emergency measures that appeased G-d’s anger and averted the catastrophe that was poised to strike the Jewish people.

Pinchos lives on as Eliyahu, the immortal angel of peace, who will return soon to inform us that the barrier between Hashem and the Jewish people has been broken for all time. We will then all rejoice with the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, may it be bekarov beyomeinu.


Post a Comment

<< Home