A few years ago I experienced pain in my neck, shoulder, upper back and knee. I rubbed in a warming ointment, but it did not alleviate the pain. Massage helped, but only momentarily. I didn’t know what to do. I asked a doctor friend of mine for direction. He told me to stand straight with my feet slightly apart so he could observe me. “You are leaning slightly to one side, so you are out of balance” he said. He placed a little padding in one shoe, made a minor adjustment to my orthotics and the next day the pain was gone! Simple adjustments to put my body back in balance relieved me of all my pains. What a savior! I had been ready to go for a battery of tests, but a minor lift in my shoe and an adjustment of my orthotic resolved the issue.
I learned from this episode how important it is to operate with a “solid footing.” This is true both physically and spiritually, in our observance of Torah and mitzvos, as is demonstrated in Parshas Pinchas.
Many of the Bnei Yisroel got involved in two major sins. Many began to serve the idol Baal Peor. Additionally, many started to intermarry with Midianite women. Hashem sent a deadly plague as a punishment for Bnei Yisroel serving the idol Baal Peor and He instructed Moshe to impose capital punishment on those found guilty of idol worship. However, the plague continued and only ceased after Pinchas bravely and boldly killed Zimri, the Nasi (leader) of the tribe of Shimon, and Kazbi, the Midianite princess with whom he engaged in illicit behavior, to punish their decadence.
The intertwinement of Pinchas’s act with the end of the plague is quite puzzling. The Torah clearly states the cause of the deadly plague was a punishment for idol worship and Hashem specifically instructed Moses to kill all the offenders. So why should only the zealous act of Pinchas curb the plague and not the punishment of the idol worshipers? Further, the punishment for idol worship is capital punishment; however, illicit relations with a non-Jewish woman is a violation not culpable of the death penalty. So why did the halting of the immorality (by killing Zimri and Kazbi) save the Jews, rather than stopping the idol worship?
The Slonimer Rebbe answers with a fundamental principle from our great Rabbis. There are two major foundational areas in our service of Hashem – Emunah (Faith in Hashem) and Kedusha (sanctification of Hashem’s name through our elevated actions). When Jews strengthen themselves in these areas, it brings growth in all areas of Torah and mitzvos. When we slack off in either of these areas, the opposite is true. It has a negative effect on our whole approach to Torah and mitzvos.
With regard to Emunah (faith), our sages tell us all Jews have Emunah. Even when a Jew does not sense his Emunah, it is there deep down inside; it’s just covered up. Sometimes the root of a problem with Emunah is hard to locate. It could be an area seemingly unconnected. The evil inclination (yetzer harah) doesn’t attack Emunah directly. Hashem told the primal snake (which represents the evil inclination), “Man will pound your head and you will bite his heel.” Man will be in control of the area of the head – the mind, where Emunah is located. However, the way the snake will be able to attack man is through his heel. The heel represents Kedusha, as referenced with regard to the burning bush, where Hashem told Moshe to remove his shoes because he was walking on holy ground. When the evil inclination succeeds in lowering our adherence to Kedusha in our conduct, that is the opening for it to cause doubts in our Emunah.
The greatest strength of the yetzer harah is defeating us in areas of holiness. This is reflected in the order in which the Torah lists the two sins. First, it tells us the nation started to involve themselves in illicit relations and only after that does it mention the nation served Baal Peor.
With this principle we understand why the zealous act of Pinchas curbed the plague, and not the punishment of the idol worshipers. It’s because the sin of observing false ideologies is rooted in one’s inclination to lower his level of Kedusha. Once the root of the problem was eliminated, the plague was halted.
Let us focus on creating a solid footing for ourselves by infusing our everyday lives with Kedusha, which will protect our faith in Hashem and strengthen our adherence to Torah and mitzvos.