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{Originally posted to Rabbi Weinberg’s website, The Foundation Stone}

Although no longer shocking to read about people such as Solomon who “lost his faith on the D train (“The Double Life of Hasidic Atheists “), it is still heartbreaking. How can a person survive living an external life in a community, family and marriage, and an entirely inconsistent internal life of beliefs? What is it like to be terrified of openly sharing questions and doubts? What happens when a unified community has such dissonance deep in its core?


The Talmud (Zevachim 101b) posits that it was at the moment when Pinchas allowed people such as Solomon to safely express their fears in order to have a community that he became the true Kohen of Israel.

Pinchas led a delegation representing the ten tribes from the main land of Israel to the two-and-a half tribes on the eastern side of the Jordan to deal with a crisis. “When they came to Geliloth near the Jordan in the land of Canaan, the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Menashe built an imposing altar there by the Jordan (Joshua 22:10).” The nation had already gathered in Shiloh to prepare for war (Verse 12). Pinchas speaks to Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Menashe and warns them of the danger of defiling the land and the nation.

“We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, ‘what do you have to do with God, the Lord of Israel? God has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you have no share in God.’ So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing God. That is why we said, ‘Let us get ready and build an altar to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow, that we will worship God at His sanctuary with our burnt offerings, sacrifices and fellowship offerings. Then in the future your descendants will not be able to say to ours, ‘You have no share in the God’ (24-27).”

Pinchas becomes a Kohen when he, rather than address their valid concerns and the serious Halachic issues, responds, “Today we know that God is with us, because you have not been unfaithful to God in this matter. Now you have rescued Israel from God’s hand (31).”

Pinchas certainly appreciated the danger of the Altar, and probably suspected that the same tribes concerned with being cut off from the nation would eventually separate themselves from the nation (Judges 5, 12, and 21). He decided that despite the danger inherent in the Altar and the fear it represented, a nation that would not allow free expression of such fears would collapse, and eventually suffer the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. When God first presented us with the Mitzvah of building a Temple (Exodus 25:8), He began with, “Take for Me a portion, from every man whose heart motivates him shall you take My portion (2),” a communal obligation (Podcast-Terumah-Foundations) that precedes the gift of the Tabernacle and Temple, a communal obligation to ensure that each individual have a place in the Temple as the heart of the community. The Midrash compares this to a king, who, upon marrying off his only daughter, asks, “Any place that you go, prepare a room for me so that I may dwell with you (Shemot Rabbah 33:1).” God asks that we build communities that always have a place for Him; a community that exists in peace with itself. A community that does not have space for people who fear being cut-off, people such as Solomon, does not have space for God.

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Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg, is founder and President of the leading Torah website, The Foundation Stone. Rav Simcha is an internationally known teacher of Torah and has etablished yeshivot on several continents.