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September 17, 2014 / 22 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Pinchas’

The Tremendous Heart Of Pinchas Daddy

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

We’ve just read the Torah portion about Pinchas, an amazing tzaddik who performed an unusual act instinctively and for the sake of Hashem and His honor.

About two weeks ago I was tidying my desk area and the shelves above it. Suddenly, on the floor, seemingly out of nowhere, I saw an old article from a major Hebrew daily, written the day after Sergeant Pinchas Daddy was stabbed in the heart by an Arab who had crept up and attacked him from behind.

Pinchas Daddy. How I loved him; how everyone involved at the Kotel loved him. I had a kiosk near the Kotel and he always greeted me – as well as all the Arab shopkeepers – with a gleaming smile. He was 38 but seemed older – wise and fatherly.

He was like a television cop, twirling his nightstick and helping children cross the street. I’m telling you we all cried, Jews and Arabs alike, when our Daddy was suddenly, and ruthlessly, taken from us.

I picked up the old yellowed article, looked at the photo of that beautiful man and said to myself, “I must call his family and tell them how much I loved and miss him.”

I dialed information and asked for the Daddy family in Talpiot. Moments later I was speaking to Mrs. Daddy. I immediately started crying and told her how I found the little article and picture. She probably couldn’t believe that out of the blue someone on the line was crying for her tzaddik husband.

She told me his 20th yahrzeit – this Thursday, erev Rosh Chodesh Av – will be marked by a ceremony on Mount Herzl. I assured her I would be there.

“Did you ever get remarried?” I asked.

“No,” she replied.

“Yes, I understand,” I said. “Who could ever replace a husband like yours? Pinchas was so gentle, so loving.”

“Our oldest son is a ramach [the abbreviated term for head of a division] at the Russian Compound police station,” she said, “and believe me, he emulates his father’s ways. Pinchas, I’m sure, is very proud of him.”

And now, in his honor, I present the secret power of Pinchas.

When we read in the Torah that Pinchas took the romach, the spear, with which he stabbed Zimri and his idol-worshipping girlfriend, the word romach is spelled without the Hebrew letter vav. Therefore it can be read as ramach, which we use for the number of positive commandments in the Torah.

Ramach is spelled resh (numerical equivalent: 200) mem (40), ches (8), which corresponds to the 248 organs in the body. Each positive commandment fixes and nurtures a different organ.

So the verse hints to us that Pinchas’s meticulous keeping of all 248 positive commandments gave him the strength to do what he did.

But I still didn’t have a proof for my theory until I walked into the Diaspora Yeshiva on the fast day of the 17th of Tammuz and heard Rav Goldstein, the rosh hayeshiva, quoting the famous Mussar sefer Shaarei Teshuvah, which deduces from a pasuk in Devarim that keeping all the positive commandments makes a person a yorei Shamayim – someone who properly fears Heaven – while a person who tramples even one positive commandment is not a yorei Shamayim.

Now it was clear to me that the verse reveals to us the true power of Pinchas – that it was his careful observance of the positive commandments that gave him the strength to avenge God’s honor.

Returning to our Pinchas, of the Daddy family, let’s remember that Rebbe Akiva declared that loving your neighbor like yourself is klal gadol b’Torah – equal to all the positive commandments and all the negative ones too.

Even though the human body contains 248 organs and 365 arteries that are fixed and nurtured by each of the 613 positive and negative commandments, the heart is essentially the most vital organ in the body, without which nothing will work. In police terminology, as mentioned above, the ramach is the chief of the department. So certainly the great mitzvah of loving your neighbor like yourself is klal gadol b’Torah – the heart of all 613 mitzvahs.

A year before he was killed, Pinchas Daddy had suffered a heart attack at the young age of 37. He recovered and was stationed at the holy Kotel, where he shared his heart with every human being, appreciating the importance of the heart to the body and to the mitzvah of loving your fellow man with all your heart – regardless of his color or religion.

Pinchas: Zealous For Hashem

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

In a moment of zealousness, Pinchas earned eternal honor for himself and his family. As Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, explains, such is the power of zeal in the service of Hashem and His Torah.

“Pinchas Ben Elazar Ben Aharon the kohen turned away my wrath from upon the sons of Israel by his zeal for my sake in their midst; and I did not bring destruction upon the sons of Israel because of my jealousy. Therefore, say, behold, I give to him my covenant of peace” (25:11-2). This is a special proclamation of acclaim. Though Moshe certainly approved of Pinchas, Hashem here teaches the necessity to render public recognition to the righteous.

“And they shall justify the just, and they shall condemn the wicked” (Devarim 25:1) actually means that the just shall be held up to public view as men all should admire, and that the wicked must be held up as examples of scorn and public shame. Thus, in the rare instances when a prophetic Bat Kol was heard during the Second Sanctuary era, we find an instance (in the Gemara in Sanhedrin) when this miraculous phenomenon was used to point out the excellence of Hillel; and similarly, a Bat Kol came forth later to proclaim the excellence of Shmuel the Little (ibid.).

“Hashem encourages the meek” (Tehillim 147:6) (i.e. the righteous) “but He lowers the wicked to the ground” (ibid.). “Condemning the wicked, and justifying the righteous” (I Kings 8:32): this is a principle of all the narrations of the Scriptures concerning the righteous.

Against every good man (or good deed) there will always be detractors and opponents, or at best the people will fail to appreciate properly the worth of the righteous and their deeds. Here in these verses Hashem supplies a model of how to react to the deeds of the righteous and how highly we should admire their personalities and publicize their importance.

Pinchas is commended for being jealous (i.e. his zeal) for Hashem, and this jealousy was especially commended for being performed in their midst, meaning in open public demonstration. This quality of public open speech or action on behalf of Hashem is especially prized. Moshe became angry when he saw any infraction of Hashem’s Torah and was constantly commended by Hashem; we understand that Moshe was protecting the sons of Israel from the consequences of Hashem’s wrath.

When Moshe, during the episode of the golden calf, broke the Tablets, it was a monumental deed of jealousy for Hashem’s honor, and this prepared the way for the final pardon that was granted for that transgression. Similarly, when Abraham prayed that Sodom be spared destruction, Hashem consented if there would be ten righteous men, but the condition was made that they be righteous men in the midst of the city (Bereshis 18:26), meaning that they openly and publicly demonstrated their disapproval of the sins of the city. Just as the ketoret brings forgiveness from Hashem’s retribution, even more does public action for the honor of Hashem and His Torah bring forgiveness. This is the highest ketoret of all.

In the following verse, a covenant of priesthood is bestowed upon him and his posterity. But the covenant of peace for Pinchas himself is a separate covenant whereby he is assured of peace throughout his lifetime (Bamidbar Rabbah 25:1). Why was Pinchas granted an assurance of peace throughout his lifetime? Because he brought peace to the sons of Israel. This is twice stated: 1) He turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel and 2) he was zealous for his G-d and atoned for the sons of Israel (25:13). The second statement is added to explain the priesthood was bestowed upon him because he atoned for the sons of Israel, therefore he and his posterity shall atone for Israel as kohanim. Thus we learn that the man who is zealous for Hashem and His Torah is considered as one who brings peace to Israel and protects them against misfortune; and therefore he deserves a long life of enjoying the fruits of his deeds.

Pinchas was active even in the days of the War of the Concubine at Giveah (Shoftim 20:28). Similarly, though Eliyahu Hanavi departed from men (II Kings 2:11), he was rewarded in not having to die like other men (ibid.) because he was zealous for Hashem (I Kings 19:10); and in our tradition the deathless Eliyahu appeared to the Sages numerous times. Men such as these have brought upon Israel the assurance that our nation would continue deathless.

Agudat HaRabonim Of Poland Re-established After 70 Years

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

         An event, thought to be impossible after the Shoah, took place in Lodz.

 

         Rabbi Yona Metzger, Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, attended an auspicious meeting that culminated in the re-establishment of the Agudat HaRabonim of Poland, the Association of Orthodox Rabbis in Poland.

 

         Before the Shoah, many towns in Poland had the nickname Little Jerusalem, as they were the source of Judaism for the whole world. They would send out young rabbis to far-flung communities, in need of guidance, spreading the word of Torah. Today after the devastation of the Shoah, more than 60 years ago, there are finally enough rabbis to form an association.

 

         The honored guest, Rabbi Yona Metzger, signed a special scroll together with Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Michael Schudrich and other community rabbis serving in Warsaw, Krakow, Wroclaw and Lodz, declaring the formal re-establishment of the group. Today there are close to 10 Orthodox rabbis serving Poland including two Chabad Shluchim, who did not participate in the event. Their activities range from running day schools, teaching Bar Mitzvah boys and couples preparing for marriage, kosher supervision, dealing with Holocaust related issues to dealing with the government.

 

         The re-establishment of the Agudat HaRabonim took place at the initiative of Rabbi Michael Freund, Chairman of Shavei Israel, based in Israel. It is an organization, active around the world, which seeks out “Hidden Jews” and helps them return to Judaism. The event last week was originally trumpeted as the second annual seminar of Shavei Israel in Poland. But when Rabbi Freund saw the list of possible attendees he realized that it was time to organize all the rabbis in Poland.

 

         Though the initiative was originally his Rabbi Freund said his organization, except for the two Rabbis in Poland who are from Shavei Israel, will have no say in the new association. Rabbi Yitzchak Rapaport is working in Wroclaw and Rabbi Boaz Pasz in Krakow, as representatives of Shavei Israel.

 

         The Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, has been in Poland since 1989 under different titles and has seen the Jewish community grow from being invisible to the most visible and active minority group in Poland.

 

 


Signatories of the re-establishment of the Agudat HaRabonim of Poland.

Seated (L-R) Rabbi Michael Schudrich and Rabbi Yonah Metzger.

 

 

         The most famous story of a returning Jew in Poland today, is that of Pinchas Zlotosvsky. He is often the first Jew one sees upon entering the Jewish community center, which includes the Nozyk synagogue, in Warsaw.

 

         It was only a few short years ago that Pinchas roamed the city as a skinhead. Then his mother told him that he couldn’t hate Jews because he himself was Jewish. She had been hidden in a monastery during the Shoah, which enabled her to survive.

 

         His transformation was complete. ‘”He went from skinhead to covered head,” Rabbi Schudrich likes to say.

 

         Pinchas and his wife and children are involved in every aspect of the Orthodox community. He studies in the Kollel with Rabbi Meisels, works as the mashgiach and shochet and is often the first to come to davening in the morning. It frequently surprises visitors to Warsaw when they meet a Chassidic Jew in complete traditional chassidic garb. Everybody thinks he is a visitor and starts talking to him in English or Yiddish, but Pinchas smiles at their reaction, when he explains that he is only fluent in Polish.

 

         There was a time not to long ago when there was not one recognizable Jew on the streets in Poland but today you have Jews proudly wearing kippot, hats, beards, peyot and even kapotehs (frock coats). They still stand out but they stand proud.

 

         This year’s Shavei Israel Conference was held in Lodz where the community has no rabbi but is led by Simcha Keller, a very efficient layman, who became religious at the age of 16 while studying with his grandfather. He studied in Israel and is a member of the Alexander Chassidic group.

 

         He proudly shows off the Linat Orchim (guest house) with a mezuzah on every door, the soon-to-be-completed mikveh, kosher dairy restaurant, meat catering facilities, as well as the many social activities that the community runs.

 

         Rabbi Freund of Shavei Israel said that they are looking into the possibility of sending a qualified rabbi to assist the community in its religious needs.  

Q & A: Pinchas Not Always Zealous? (Conclusion)

Wednesday, October 6th, 2004
QUESTION: Recently, as I was studying the weekly portions of the Torah, I noticed a seeming anomaly. In Parashat Balak, Pinchas does what Moses did not do and zealously killed Zimri, a tribal prince who had sinned. We find in the following portion, Parashat Pinchas, that Pinchas was rewarded for this act. Yet after that, in Parashat Mattot, Pinchas is rebuked for not fulfilling Moses’ command. Can you reconcile this apparent contradiction in the way Pinchas is described?
M. Goldblum
via e-mail
ANSWER: Last week we referred to the actual verses in the Torah teaching about Pinchas’ swift and necessary action (Numbers 25:1-9); Pinchas’ reward of praise by Hashem and everlasting priesthood for himself and his descendants, which he had not been eligible for otherwise (Numbers 25:10-13); and the account of the war against Midian and Moses’ ensuing anger at the commanders for allowing the female Midianite captives to live (Numbers 31:1-16). Even though Pinchas was not a commander, but rather a “meshuach milchama - anointed for war” (Sotah 43a) whose mission it was to inspire the warriors to heed the law, he still had to condemn inappropriate behavior, and that is what Moses’ rebuke was about.* * *

The Gemara (Perek Hanisrafin, Sanhedrin 82a), in its discussion of the Mishna (81b), teaches that one who has relations with a heathen woman may be killed by a zealot, noting that R. Dimi states that the beth din of the Hasmoneans decreed that one who has relations with a heathen woman is in violation of [four forbidden actions, for which the Gemara gives a mnemonic] NaSHGA - nun, shin, gimmel, aleph. Rabin states [with a slight variation] that in such a case one is in violation of NaSHGaZ – nun, shin, gimmel, zayyin. Both agree about the first three violations: Nun – niddah, a menstruant woman; shin – shifcha, a heathen slave woman; gimmel – goyya, a heathen woman. They differ regarding the fourth. R. Dimi is of the opinion that in such a situation one is in violation of having relations with a married woman - aleph, eshet ish. Rabin, on the other hand, does not view this possibility because heathens do not recognize the marriage bond. Thus his understanding of the Hasmonean edict was that the final violation, zayyin, refers to zonah – having relations with a harlot (if the man was a kohen). But R. Dimi assumed that heathen men, too, do not permit their wives to be promiscuous, and their relationship is likened therefore to ishut’ marriage.

R. Chisda stated that if one comes to ask the beth din whether to punish the transgressors by
killing them, the judges do not instruct him to do so, since the Mishna states that “the zealot may kill him.” This is a self-inspired, natural reaction. The Gemara notes a similar view of Rabbah b. Bar Hana, who said in the name of R. Yochanan that one who inquires of the beth din is not advised in this matter. Moreover, had Zimri left the woman and Pinchas had killed him, Pinchas would have been liable for the death penalty on this account. Furthermore, had Zimri in the midst of this act killed Pinchas, he would not have been liable for the death penalty because Pinchas would be considered to be his pursuer, from whom he is entitled to save himself.

The Gemara elaborates further regarding the events that led to the incident of Zimri and Cozbi:
The verse states in Parashat Balak (Numbers 25:5), “Vayomer Moshe el shoftei Yisrael, Hirgu ish anashav hanitzmadim le[B]aal-peor – Moses said to the judges of Israel, Let each man kill his men who were attracted to Baal-peor.”

When the tribe of Shimon saw that members of its tribe were to be punished with execution for their sin of idolatry, they went to their prince, Zimri ben Salu, and said: “They are judging cases of capital punishment [against our tribe] and you sit by silently!” Zimri then arose and gathered 24,000 people from among Israel and went to Cozbi, the daughter of the Midianite king. He asked Cozbi to submit to him, to which Cozbi replied, “I am the king’s daughter, and my father has commanded me not to submit except to the greatest of them [namely, Moses].” Zimri replied that he was a tribal prince, and his tribe was greater than Moses’ tribe, for Zimri’s tribe was descended from the second of Jacob’s sons, while Moses’ tribe was descended from the third-born son (Levi).

Zimri then grabbed her by her hair and brought her before Moses, explaining: “Son of Amram, is this one forbidden or permitted [to me]” And if you say she is forbidden, who permitted the daughter of Jethro [also a Midianite woman] to you?”

At that point Moses momentarily forgot the halacha that a zealot may kill one who has relations with a heathen woman.

The people began to weep loudly, as it is written, “And they were weeping at the entrance of
the Tent of Meeting.”

The Gemara continues: “Pinchas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw. . .” The
Gemara asks, “What did he see?” He saw this incident and remembered the halacha, saying to
Moses, “Did you not teach us that one who has relations with a heathen woman may be killed?” Moses responded, “The one who reads the letter is the agent designated to carry out its instructions.”

Shmuel adds that Pinchas saw that “Ein chochma ve’ein tevuna ve’ein etzah lenegged Hashem
- There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against [the honor of] Hashem.” [See
Proverbs 21:30, Rashi (ad loc. s.v. Shmuel amar...) and Tosafot (Gittin 68a s.v. U'chetiv zenut
ve'yayyin...), who explain the concept of attributing a verse that was not yet written.]

Whenever there is a situation of chillul Hashem, the desecration of Hashem’s holy name, we
do not worry about showing respect to a teacher. Therefore, though Pinchas issued a ruling in the presence of his master, Moses, he was not guilty of any wrongdoing in this case.

Thus it was Zimri’s bold act of violation that required Pinchas to punish him immediately,
whereas later on Pinchas would not be allowed such an impulsive act on his own. The sin of the army commanders was that they had let the Midianite women live and Pinchas was powerless to act on his own. Rather, the order to kill the Midianite women was part of the general war instructions, and that is why Moses correctly rebuked the army commanders. [Or HaChayyim and Kli Yakar give slightly different explanations about the reason the commanders did not follow the instructions.]

The Gaon R. Moshe Feinstein (quoted by R. Avraham Fishelis in Kol Ram, Parashat Mattot)
notes Rashi’s statement (Numbers 31:12) that the army commanders were righteous men and they were not suspected of taking spoils without permission. Instead, they brought them to Moses. R. Feinstein asks: What is the theft committed in the midst of war, when such matters are usually permitted to soldiers? He explains that in the course of war one may become lax in the matter of murder and theft, and as such they wished it would not affect their souls. Thus they brought the spoils to Moses along with the females who had remained alive. We understand that Moses explained to them that such is not the case. The ruling is that the females must be killed along with the males. When it comes to G-d’s war, we must wage the battle exactly as specified. (See also Noam Elimelech on Parashat Pinchas. He explains in detail the need for war against Midian and for that people’s destruction.)

Q & A: Pinchas Not Always Zealous? (Part I)

Friday, October 1st, 2004
QUESTION: Recently, as I was studying the weekly portions of the Torah, I noticed a seeming anomaly. In Parashat Balak, Pinchas does what Moses did not do and zealously killed Zimri, a tribal prince who had sinned. We find in the following portion, Parashat Pinchas, that Pinchas was rewarded for this act. Yet after that, in Parashat Mattot, Pinchas is rebuked for not fulfilling Moses’ command. Can you reconcile this apparent contradiction in the way Pinchas is described?
M. Goldblum
via e-mail
ANSWER: You are very perceptive; it seems at first glance that Pinchas’ behavior in these two events was not consistent. There is also a further problem regarding the events in Parashat Balak; Pinchas issued a ruling in the presence of his teacher, Moses, according to what the Sages explain.For clarification, let us first review the pertinent text in Balak and in Mattot.

In Parashat Balak (Numbers 25:1-9) the Torah relates the following tragic episode: “Israel settled in the Shittim and the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moab, who invited the people to the feasts of their gods; the people ate and prostrated themselves to those gods. Israel became attached to Baal-peor, and the wrath of Hashem flared up against Israel. Hashem said to Moses, ‘Take all the leaders of the people. Hang them up before Hashem against the sun, so that the flaring wrath of Hashem will withdraw from Israel.’ Moses said to the judges of Israel, ‘Let each man kill his men who were attached to Baal-peor.’ And behold, a man of the Children of Israel came and brought to his brethren a Midianite woman in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel, and they were weeping at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. When Pinchas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he stood up from amid the assembly and took a spear in his hand. He followed the Israelite man into the tent and pierced them both, the Israelite man and the woman into her stomach, and the plague was halted from the Children of Israel. Those who died in the plague were 24,000.”

We see that Pinchas, through his swift action, prevented the spread of a plague that might have
completely devastated the young Jewish nation. For this he is praised by Hashem and awarded an everlasting priesthood, for him and his progeny, as the Torah states immediately afterward in Parashat Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-13): “Hashem spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Pinchas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, turned back My wrath from the Children of Israel when he zealously avenged Me among them, so I did not consume the Children of Israel in My vengeance. Therefore, say: Behold, I give him My covenant of peace. And it shall be for him and his offspring after him a covenant of eternal priesthood, because he took vengeance for his G-d, and he atoned for the Children of Israel.’”

Pinchas, through a quirk of fate, had not been destined to become a kohen even though his father, Eleazar, and his grandfather, Aaron, were kohanim, as Rashi explains (25:13 s.v. “brit kehunat olam”): even though the priesthood was already assigned to the descendants of Aaron, it was only given to Aaron and his four adult sons – Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Itamar. It would then pass on automatically, at birth, to the succeeding generations. Pinchas, who was a minor at that time, was not included because he was too young to be anointed.

Thus, through his quick action, he earned the right of the priesthood for him and his own progeny.

Finally, there is the text in Parashat Mattot (Numbers 31:1-16): “Hashem spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Take vengeance for the Children of Israel against the Midianites; afterward you will be gathered unto your people.’ Moses spoke to the people, saying, ‘Arm men from among yourselves for the army that they may go against Midian and inflict Hashem’s vengeance on Midian. Of every tribe a thousand, throughout all the tribes of Israel shall you send to the war.’ So there were delivered out of the thousands of the Children of Israel a thousand from each tribe, twelve thousand armed [men] for the war. Moses sent them, a thousand from each tribe, with Pinchas the son of Eleazar the priest, to the war, with the sacred vessels and the trumpets to blow in his hand. They warred against Midian, as Hashem had commanded Moses, and they killed every male. They killed the kings of Midian beside the rest of them that were slain: Evi, Rekem, Tzur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian; and they slew Balaam son of Beor with the sword. The Children of Israel took captive all the women of Midian, and their young children; and all their cattle and flocks and all their wealth they took as spoils. And they burned all the cities in which they dwelled and all their palaces in fire. They took all the spoils and all the captives of people and animals. They brought the captives, the animals, and the spoils to Moses, to Eleazar the priest, and to the assembly of the Children of Israel to the camp at the plains of Moab, which was by the Jordan near Jericho. Moses, Eleazar the priest, and all the leaders of the assembly went out to meet them outside the camp. Moses was angry with the commanders of the army, the officers of the thousands and the officers of the hundreds, who had come from the battle. Moses said to them, ‘Did you let every female live? Behold, they caused the Children of Israel, by the word of Balaam, to commit a betrayal against Hashem in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague in the assembly of Hashem.’”

Though the verse above states that Moses was angry with the commanders of the army – and we might think that this eliminates any wrongdoing on Pinchas’ part, as he was not one of the commanders – this is moot because the Talmud (Perek Meshuach milchama, Sotah 43a) states that Pinchas was sent with the army as a “meshuach milchama – anointed for war,” meaning a priest who is specially anointed to lead the army in war. The Gemara (Sotah 42a-b), based on Parashat Shoftim (Deuteronomy Ch. 20), defines the mission of this specially anointed priest to be to inspire the army with words of support and to warn them as to what they may not do in the course of war. Thus, if they heeded his words and their war was justified, they were assured victory, as Hashem would surely not desert them.

Additionally, Rashi s.v. “Vayiktzof Moshe al pekudei hechayyil – Moses was angry with the
commanders of the army” (Numbers 31:14), states that this teaches us that the mischief of the
generation depends on the leaders who have the power to protest but do not do so.

We must assume that there was no one greater than Pinchas among the leaders who had the power to protest and reproach the people for any unseemly behavior.

(To be continued)

The Narrative Of Authority Paintings By John Bradford

Wednesday, March 24th, 2004

John Bradford, Paintings – 55 Mercer Gallery, 55 Mercer
Street, New York, N.Y. (212) 226-8513. Tuesday – Saturday
10 a.m.-6 p.m. Until February 21, 2004.

 

 

Authority, as the Gemara in Sanhedrin says, makes the world go round. Whether exercised as external power in governmental brute force or through the more subtle influences of religious or moral beliefs on our mental architecture, it is the defining element that allows us to function peacefully as social beings and even allows many of the niceties of civilization.

In the Jewish world, authority finds its source in none other than G-d Himself and the agency that we have internalized as Halacha. We have one source of authority and attempt to act within its confines as much as humanly possible. The issue of authority, specifically, the structure of our lives that defines the borders between personal conduct and socially legitimate behavior, must be mapped in order to be recognized. This relationship, according to Rabbi Dr. Avi Berkowitz, is precisely the issue that John Bradford’s current paintings address at the exhibition at 55 Mercer Gallery.

Berkowitz is no stranger to the concepts of both civil and religious authority. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from Columbia University with a specialty in Middle East Studies. As a
musmach of Rabbi Aaron Soloveitchik, his rabbinic authority is solid. He teaches World Jewish History at the Ramaz Upper School and is the rabbi of the Community Synagogue located at East Sixth Street in Manhattan. Rabbi Dr. Berkowitz teaches a weekly Chumash class at his synagogue on Wednesday nights to, among others, his friend of at least 20 years – John Bradford. In light of that class and many years of artistic and scholarly interchange, Berkowitz feels that Bradford is an astute student of Torah and has “integrated the Jewish spirit of the narrative with its halachic dimension.” Berkowitz see evidence of this in one especially grisly painting in the exhibition, Phinehas (2003).

Pinchas is shown in the lower foreground center spearing the sinners Zimri and Cozbi on the left (Bamidbar 25: 7) as witnesses on the right look on in awe. The zealot Pinchas is seen as a complete figure, free, and empowered to act. It is depicted exactly as described by the Gemara in Sanhedrin, 82b. Commenting on this event, the Gemara explicates the Mishnah that states, “If one cohabits with a heathen woman, he is punished by zealots.” R. Dimi comments that the transgressor would be guilty of violating the prohibitions against niddah, a non-Jewish maidservant, a non-Jewish woman and a married woman. But once Zimri perpetrated this forbidden act as a revolt against the leadership of Moses, our teacher inexplicably forgot the
halacha. At that moment Pinchas, shocked to see what was happening, remembered the law, whereupon Moses replied to him, “He who reads the letter, let him be the agent [to carry out its instructions].” The Gemara is explicit concerning the execution of the Halacha; the
transgressors must be punished while in the act of their transgression. Any other manner or time would have transformed the righteous Pinchas into a common murderer.

According to Berkowitz, Bradford’s painting depicts, “Pinchas acting with the freedom of modern man and yet, the entire painting confines him within the structures of the law. The very specific nature of the visual depiction tells us he is acting only within the confines of Halacha. The Gemara is expressing the right and power of an individual to act, but only within the exact specifics of the Halacha. To deviate in any manner makes one liable to the death penalty. It
must be executed at the precise moment, and that is what Bradford has captured.” Berkowitz adds that these laws do not apply in our times when even a beit din lacks the authority to execute transgressors.

Bradford’s painting asserts that the self-authorizing individual can only exist within in the strict confines of Halacha. All of the Avot possessed this unique individualistic power. In Berkowitz’s analysis, this pivotal painting is starkly contrasted with three other paintings in
the exhibition that address further issues of authority.

Moses and Pharaoh (2003) is a distillation of the notion of “Despotism Confronted.” Exodus 10:25 -11:8, depicts the final encounter between Moses and Pharaoh in which Moses declares “I will never see your face again,” as “he left “Pharaoh’s presence in a burning anger.” Berkowitz sees “Pharaoh’s figure, outlined in yellow on the left, as a tightly bound despot, wrapped up and more and more constricted by the very institutions he created to crush society.” In contrast Moses is “about to become empowered and is on the verge of acting with freedom. His hand rises and is about to unfurl” as he departs. We see him in a faint after-image on the extreme right exiting the palace. Most importantly, Moses is seen in a transition
between being bound to Pharaoh’s authority and freely submitting to G-d’s authority. Seen in this light, Moshe is “still operating on the basis of direct instructions from G-d. He is Moshe Rabbainu in training. He is not yet the Moshe who will [on his own initiative] smash the Tablets. After that he becomes, in effect, a self-authorizing individual. Then, but only then, does he earn the right to ask to “see G-d’s face.”

Despotism is illegitimate governmental authority. Judaism challenged the pagan Pharaoh’s authoritarianism with the creation of the Jewish monarchy, as exemplified by the reign of Solomon. The Judgment of Solomon (2003) encapsulates the “Rise of Legitimate Authority.” Berkowitz describes Solomon’s hand “as fully extended in a manner that echoes the assertive posture of Pinchas. But Pinchas is placed in the lower half of the painting, acting only as an individual. Here, Solomon, towering over the figures of the supplicant women, is acting as a legitimate authority. He is totally liberated, reflecting legitimate authority in its flowering because Solomon is dealing with yichus - lineage - the most significant matter in Jewish life. Pinchas judges mere life and death, whereas lineage defines one’s identity. Pinchas cannot arbitrate such matters since he has no meaningful lineage.” Pinchas is the only grandson of Aaron, who is not a Kohen. This was the case since he had already been born when G-d decreed the Priesthood to be given to the sons of Aaron and his grandsons who were not yet born. The distinction between the individual, like Pinchas, who acts on his own, no matter how righteously, and the ruler who can judge lineage, as in the Judgment of Solomon, son of David, is crucial to the establishment of legitimacy. The right to secular authority within a Jewish context must arise out of a discernible past, a lineage of justice and halachic-bound power.

The contemporary world is provocatively depicted in the painting directly across from Solomon. George Bush at Ground Zero (2003) represents, according to Berkowitz, “Bush’s task to free himself from the albatross of his own lineage, specifically his father’s anti-Israel legacy. Only then, can his authority [to transform the American political reality emerging from the 9/11 catastrophe] be legitimated. His outstretched arm echoes Solomon’s commanding
gesture and yet his face is hidden because he is still not fully liberated from his family’s history. He must avoid the “Pinchas trap” that is implicit in the Western illusion of the self-covenanting individual. He must realize that his job is more than just arbitrating the life and death of the terrorists. Therefore, Bradford depicts Bush in the center of the painting, implying that Bush must choose whether he wants to rise to the level of Solomon or descend to the level of Pinchas. In other words, will Bush become a Solomon-like figure, a fully legitimate authority commanding world affairs, or will he remain a self-covenanting individual, acting heroically, but ultimately leaving no legacy.”

Berkowitz’s analysis has come full circle, linking the righteous, but limited and individual, act of Pinchas with the struggles of our current President to act forcefully against the evil of Islamic terror. Exercising authority in the international arena demands a recognized legitimacy. Considering the chorus of criticism, just doing the right thing is not sufficient. Legitimacy ultimately flows from G-d and a thoroughly righteous relationship with His people, the Jews, and His Nation, Israel. Part political analysis and part prophecy, Bradford’s painting has depicted “Authority Being Created.”

John Bradford and Avi Berkowitz comprise a curious couple. Bradford’s paintings blossom under Berkowitz’s trained eye as he traces a narrative of authority; originating in the narrow confines of the righteous individual, evolving in the maturation of Moses as communal leader and blossoming in the glory of Solomon’s national political leadership. The metaphorical climax of the paintings is reached at Ground Zero, the intersection of national tragedy and international crisis. This confluence of Torah, interpretation, halacha, politics and Jewish art alters everything it touches from Tanach to today’s headlines, leaving a permanent and disturbing impression on our consciousness.


Rabbi Dr. Avi Berkowitz’s comments were recorded at a gallery interview while viewing the paintings. I am grateful for his participation.

Richard McBee is a painter of Torah subject matter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at www.richardmcbee.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/the-narrative-of-authority-paintings-by-john-bradford/2004/03/24/

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