Parsha Ki Tisa 5771 — The First-Borns, The Kehunah and Bechirah

by Moshe Burt

For many years, this author has spoken or written about a posuk in Parsha Ki Tisa which alludes to an event which is recorded in Torah 40 years later, in a subsequent Parsha.

The posuk being referred to (Sh’mos, Perek 30, posuk 30) says that while Moshe Rabbeinu was on Har Sinai being given Torah, Hashem said;

“You shall anoint Aaron and his sons and sanctify them to minister (to serve) Me.”

This seemingly obscure posuk, which pops up 8 times in various different forms in Parsha Tetzaveh and again in our Parsha, raises a few challenging questions which cut to the chase of what we continue to face today. One question is; what about that Pinchas Ben Elazar? Why was he not anointed as a Kohen with his brothers? The other question is: What about the first-born and the Priesthood?

The answer regarding Pinchas would seem to be that since he was born in Mitzrayim, before Matan Torah, he didn’t get “grandfathered” into the Kehunah retroactively, although his father, Elazar was a son of Aaron. Elazar and Aaron’s 3 other sons, as well as all future descendents of Aaron and his son’s from the time of Matan Torah would inherit the Kehunah. But there seems to be more.

In following Parsha Tetzaveh, we learn that Hashem first instructs Moshe Rabbeinu as to the pressed olive oil for illumination of the eternal flame of the menorah, and then regarding the Bigdei Kehuna — the clothing of the Kohanim — the Priests.

Rashi holds that Parsha Tetzaveh is actually out of order and that Hashem’s handing down the Halachot concerning Aaron and the lighting of the Menorah, the Bigdei Kehuna and anointing Aaron and his sons as Kohanim came only after sin of the eigel zahav — the golden calf. Ramban however, holds that Tetzaveh’s placement is sequentially correct.

Yaakov Aveinu, in his Brachot to his sons, withdrew the rights of the first-born from Reuven due to the incident regarding the bed; giving Yosef the birthright, the kingship to Yehuda and seemingly withdrawing the merit of the Priesthood from Reuven and giving it to Levi. However, both The Midrash Says (Sefer Sh’mot, Parsha Tetzaveh, page 277) and Yehuda Nachshoni’s Studies in the Weekly Parashah indicate that the first-borns retained the Kehunah up until the sin of the eigel when, as Nachshoni puts it (Sefer Breish’t, Parsha Vayechi, page 312):

…The tribe of Levi… came to the defense of Hashem’s glory with [after the sin of — MB] the Golden Calf.

As Hashem, in a manner of description, related the Torah to Moshe, this author would like to suggest that the following could have occured;

As Moshe was receiving the Laws regarding the Mishkan, the 40th day came and the B’nai Yisrael panicked when Moshe didn’t descend from Har Sinai when they thought he would. They concluded that he was gone, that something happened to him, that he would never return. They sought another intermediary — a replacement Moshe to intercede with Hashem. Ergo, the Eigel Zahav. As Hashem was completing his recitation to Moshe concerning the building of the Mishkan, the laws concerning the oil for the Menorah and for the Priestly garments; perhaps, simultaneously, the B’nai Yisrael was in a panic over Moshe’s failure to return, and handing jewelry over for the eigel at that very moment. Perhaps we could say that Hashem Audibled over center. “Audible” according to Wikipedia means:

A tactic used by quarterbacks in American football to change a play at the line of scrimmage.

A Big Surprise: The Kehunah — the priesthood is conferred upon Aaron and his sons and their descendents as Hashem forsakes the first-borns after the sin (chait) of the eigel zahav.

Then, in Parsha Ki Tisa, we learn about the Chatzei Shekel contributions constituting a “census” to be collected from the B’nai Yisrael and the washing basins as well as the anointing oil to be used to anoint Aaron and his sons as Kohanim. All of this is imparted by Hashem to Moshe before He dispatches Moshe to return to the Bnai Yisrael, for they “have become corrupt”.

Meanwhile, back on earth; we learn that the priesthood, seemingly intended by Hashem originally for the first-born males of B’nai Yisrael, was given by Divine command to Aaron, his sons and their descendents. Pinchas, who is the only documented son of Elazar recorded in Chumash or in Chronicles — if he was the only offspring of Elazar ben Aaron, he (Pinchas) seemingly would have merited the priesthood as did the other first-borns. If the previous sentence is true, then it would seem that due to the Eigel Zahav, the first-borns lost the merit of the Kehunah to Aaron and his sons.
And so Pinchas, perhaps previously zocha to Priesthood if a first-born, found himself, by virtue of his birth before Matan Torah, in the position of not being a Kohen although a son of Elazar HaKohen.

Pinchas ultimately received the merit of the Kehunah only by virtue of an act of his zealousness, L’Shem Shemayim, rak L’Shem Shemayim.

This author has written, and Rabbanim have spoken about the role of peer group pressure as one of the inevitable cheshbonot which many often weigh regarding performance of a Mitzvah, and whether or not such a cheshbon is necessarily L’Shem Shemayim. That is, as this author understands, basing one’s actions or performance of a given Mitzvah on the perception of the esteem with which others will hold him.

It was the Tzaddik, Pinchas Ben Elazar who saw what was going on around him, was pained by what the Am was doing and what one of the Princes’ was into. Pinchas envisioned the possible dire consequences of the avodah zora taking place among B’nai Yisrael and figured that he’d better ask his Rebbe a crucial question, and fast.

It was the final year in BaMidbar and the B’nai Yisrael were deep in crisis. It was a time when the Jewish men once again backslid while being enticed and seduced by the thousands to serve the avodah zora known as the Ba’al Peor, just as they had previoously with the eigel zahav, in doubting Moshe’s return.

What was to happen? Another 40 years in the Dessert? Destruction of the people and a new beginning from the seed of Moshe? Thousands were dying (24,000 to be exact) in the plague resulting from the avodah zora and the co-habitations. It was in this deadly crisis that Pinchas stepped up to the challenge in slaying both Zimri, one of the Princes of Israel, and the Moabite Princess Cosbi as they co-habitated. This act brought an instantaneous Divine cessation of the plague and the dying.

The action of Pinchas was not popular with the B’nai Yisrael. The Rashi on Parsha Pinchas, so entitled by Hashem in recognition of the merit of Pinchas, records that Elders of B’nai Yisrael accused Pinchas of wanton murder and wanted him tried and some sought his execution for the act. And so Hashem conveyed the Kehunah and eternal life onto Pinchas Ben Elazar, thus validating that Pinchas indeed acted L’Shem Shemayim. The Ohr HaChaim relates that:

“Hashem wanted the entire nation to know that Pinchas saved them from calamity and had earned for himself the reward specified…” (The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash, Parsha Pinchas page 876.)

Today, as in the time of Pinchas Ben Elazar and the Jews in BaMidbar, we need men of principle and integrity, both on a national and local level, who will act L’Shem Shemayim regardless of the popularity of their actions or of how others will hold of them.

Because we didn’t stand Hashem’s test in foiling the Gezeira Rah of Jew expelling Jew either in it’s legislative stages or in it’s implementation, Hashem has given the B’nai Yisrael, those living in Eretz Yisrael and worldwide, gradually sterner tests. Are we up to them?

Thoughts and conversations from Chutz L’Aretz come to mind regarding B’nai Yisrael at various junctures of the evolution of Jewish nationhood.

With the sin of the Eitz Hadas — fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, Hashem apparently departed from plan in expelling man from Gan Eden, forcing him to work for his “daily bread” with Chava and womanhood to endure the pains and pangs of the term of pregnancy. In the generation of the Mabul — The Great Flood, Hashem couldn’t stand by as mankind sinned and, as it were, switched gears wiping out the generation totally with the exception of Noach and his family, from whence we all come. In the generation of the Tower of Babel (Migdal Bavel), when man was united in rebelling against Shemayim, Hashem changed directions, disjointing man’s speech such that they could no longer communicate in a common tongue and thus battled amongst themselves. We suffer the deadly cost of a communications gap — both between nations and amongst Am Yisrael — to this day.

When man bowed to idols — to avodah zora, Hashem sought to build His chosen people beginning with the emergence of Avraham Aveinu. Once forming His Nation and conveying Priesthood upon the first-born of the male gender, and then subjecting His Nation to forging and molding under the iron crucible of Mitzrayim, He saw that His Nation panicked and lacked emunah imagining the “disappearance” of Moshe Rabbeinu and seeking a replacement intermediary between them and Hashem. And with the emergence of a golden calf, Hashem’s “Audible” apparently marked yet another departure from plan — the Priesthood, seemingly intended for the first-borns, was instead conveyed to Aaron and his sons.

Can we detect the Yad — the hand of Hashem in our contemporary days? Look back: Hashem handed all of Jerusalem, Yehuda, the Shomron and the Golan to Am Yisrael on a “silver platter.” The Arabs, the Islamics were in dire fear for their lives bowing down to IDF soldiers and hanging white sheets of surrender out of their windows. The abandoned Egyptian combat boots in the Sinai attested that Arabs fled the battlefield, running for their lives back to their own mainlands. Yet, what happened? When R’ Goren z”l single-handedly entered Hevron, shot the lock off of the Ma’arat HaMachpela, he raised Israel’s Magen David over the Kevarim of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, Moshe Dayan demanded the flag’s removal and threatened R’ Goren with prison. So this is the seed from which the betrayals by anti-Torah leaders sprouted which have covered a span of close to 44 years, of course including the tragedy of our generation — the horrendous explusion of 9,000 Jews from Jewish land, from their homes, communities, parnossa and more. We’ve all seen the evolution of the situation we face due to betrayal of Hashem by an anti-Torah governance and our collective silence towards it.

We are seeing the words of Torah played out before our eyes. This time, Hashem has even foretold our generation of His Direction if we follow political bechirah rather than His Mandate (Artscroll Stone Chumash, Sefer BaMidbar, Perek 33, p’sukim 52-56, pages 922-923);

You shall possess the Land as an inheritance by lot to your families…. But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the Land before you, those of them whom you leave shall be pins in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they will harrass you upon the Land in which you dwell. And it shall be that what had meant to do to them, I shall do to you.

We have bechirah — freedom of choice. And Hashem takes note of our acting on freedom of choice. The direction we take when we come to the bechirah “fork-in-the-road” seems the direction that Hashem allows us to follow with all of its good or bad implications, complications and consequences. Once we take that turn and travel and act along that path, we can alway do Teshuvah. But once we depart that previous path, what would have/could have been had we followed it, that previous path is then closed us.

Do we of our generation, at long last, have the principle, zealousness and the “fire in the belly” of Pinchas HaKohen? Are we up to the tasks ahead? Just as Pinchas saw what was at stake, do we grasp all of the implications? Do we grasp that Eretz Yisrael, Am Yehudi both in Israel and worldwide, as well as Torah and Kiddush Hashem are all at stake?

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard, captive Gilad Shalit and the other MIAs be liberated alive returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage to prevent the eviction of Jews from their homes and to prevent the handing of Jewish land over to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima — the Ultimate Redemption bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim” — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.