Parshas Pinchas-Delayed Gratitude
Dr. Jonathan M. Lasson
The פרשה of פינחס begins with the reward that פינחס receives for his act in the previous פרשה of בלק. There is the famous question of why is his reward delayed until this פרשה? Why was it not in last week’s פרשה when he stopped the plague by killing זמרי and כזבי?
One explanation is that sometimes we have to learn to wait for our reward in order to make sure our actions were done with the best intentions, not through sheer impulse. For example, if a teenager really wants a reward and he demonstrates for a week that he can be respectful, the parent might want to reward him after that week is complete. However, it is sometimes advisable to inform the child at the outset that you will delay the reward to see whether the young man was behaving simply to receive the reward or if the message that entitled him to the reward had some sticking power.
There were many doubts among the people as to whether or not פינחס’ actions were correct. Instead of giving him the reward right away, there needed to be a cooling off period where the people saw how he actually stopped a plague that killed 24,000 people and was therefore justified.
There were no headlines in the newspaper the following day after פינחס killed the two. פינחס was not looking for fanfare or to become the next ‘influencer’ on social media. That was not his role. פינחס never sought out to kill. He did what he needed to do.
Later in the Parsha, יהושע is appointed as the successor to Moshe. One might ask, why wasn’t פינחס ever considered or even mentioned as a candidate? He certainly showed leadership quality in stopping the plague through his act of zealotry?
I believe the answer is that פינחס was destined for other great things that involved a sense of delayed gratitude. We are told that פינחס was really אליהו (1). אליהו was instrumental in bringing about the ultimate גאולה as we find in Sefer Malachi (2)
הנה אנכי שולח לכם את אליהו הנביא
“I will send you Eliyahu Hanavi before the coming of that great day.”
If there is anything which requires us to have patience as Jews, it is the anticipation for the coming of Moshiach. We say it every day. So יהושע was the most practical successor because פינחס/אליהו’s greatness will have to be anticipated or delayed, but not immediately recognized.
פינחס therefore epitomized this idea of delayed gratitude and allowing other successors to take their role in the plans of Hashem. There have been many other stories of people who did not receive their rewards, whether monetary or praise for quite some time but they are vastly under-reported. This is primarily due to their sense of עניבות or humility.
Rav Yitzchok Dovid Grossman is one such Living Legend whose biography entitled Living Legend was recently published by Reb Nachman Seltzer. Beautifully written, this book details the life of a Chassid from Meah Shearim who became known as the ‘Disco Rabbi’ for his work in performing Kiruv in the most uncommon places. The numerous stories of lives impacted by Rav Grossman show, how years later, a doctor for example will come to Yiddishkeit, gratitude delayed.
Rav Grossman’s daughter had terrible vision related issues. They flew to the U.S. to seek out a specialist who conducted several scans. He said he would not have the results for three days. Rav Grossman’s daughter said to her father, that while she was there, she wanted to get a Bracha from the Lubavicher Rebbe. Rav Grossman went to 770 and waited for the Rebbe. As the Rebbe passed through the throngs of people, Rav Grossman came out of the line and stood in front of the Rebbe, Seeing Rav Grossman blocking his way, the Rebbe understood that there was something urgent that Rav Grossman wanted to discuss. Rav Grossman briefly told him about his daughter and her vision issues. The Rebbe said he should have her Mezuzos checked at home and in her dorm room. Rav Grossman immediately contacted a Sofer and, sure enough, he found the word עיניך had been erased from her dorm room Mezuza. The Sofer repaired the problem and informed Rav Grossman. They returned to the doctor and the doctor could not believe his eyes. What appeared on the scan was no longer evident in Rav Grossman’s daughter. Rav Grossman told him about what happened with the Rebbe and returned with his daughter back to Eretz Yisroel with her vision issues resolved.
One day, seventeen years later, Rav Grossman happened to be speaking in a shul. A man came running over to Rav Grossman and with tears streaming down his eyes began to thank Rav Grosssman for changing his life. Rav Grossman did not recognize the man. This man was the non-religious doctor, who seventeen years ago had said there was not much he could do for his daughter. After seeing the miraculous recovery, he embarked on a path to true Yiddishkeit.
I have pointed out in the past that Rebbeim and teachers (and therapists for that matter) are only thanked after a very long time. Sometimes it comes decades later and sometimes it comes posthumously. Their work is not one that always makes headlines. The reason is that some people are not motivated by headline news. It takes a special quality, for a person to not require instant gratitude. Instead they allow others to sit in the limelight. The gratitude may, or may not come later on. And they are fine with that. That is the characteristic of a Pinchas or Eliyahu who will usher in the coming of Moshiach.
- Yalkut Shimoni on פינחס, Pirkei D’rabbi Eleazar ch. 47
- Malachi 3: 23-24