Parashat Pinchas 5781
We have been following with heavy hearts the reports of the horrific collapse of the apartment building in Miami. At this point hope of finding survivors is fading. Communities in the States, in Israel, and all over the world are in mourning. A thoughtful person asked us in anguish: where was HaShem, how could HaShem have allowed something like this to happen? Sources have indicated that the building was known to have been deteriorating over a long period, and it was human negligence that nothing was done to address the problem. We human beings have a sacred responsibility to protect life in this world. But still, we can press the question, in this tragedy and every tragic loss of human life: where is God?
In this week’s parashah, Moshe Rabbenu, knowing that he will not be permitted to bring the Nation of Israel into the Land of Israel, asks HaShem to appoint a leader to take over from him, someone “who will go forth before them and return before them, to bring them out and bring them in (Num. 27:17).” HaShem confirms it will be Yehoshua. To make the transition of power to Yehoshua official, HaShem directs Moshe to perform a ceremony:
במדבר פרק כז פסוק יח פסוק כ
וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְקֹוָ֜ק אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֗ה קַח־לְךָ֙ אֶת־יְהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ בִּן־נ֔וּן אִ֖ישׁ אֲשֶׁר־ר֣וּחַ בּ֑וֹ וְסָמַכְתָּ֥ אֶת־יָדְךָ֖ עָלָֽיו
וְנָתַתָּ֥ה מֵהֽוֹדְךָ֖ עָלָ֑יו לְמַ֣עַן יִשְׁמְע֔וּ כָּל־עֲדַ֖ת בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל:
HaShem said to Moshe: take Yehoshua bin Nun, a person who has spirit in him, and place your hand upon him… And you shall place some of your Hod upon him, in order that the entire congregation of the Children of Israel will listen to him (Num. 27:18, 20).
This is the basis for the traditional ceremony of semikhah, “placing of the hand,” that confers rabbinic authority from a rabbi to his student who has proven himself worthy. The act has some similarity to the previous ceremony in parashat Beha’alotkha, in which some of the spirit of Moshe is transmitted to the elders of Israel to help them share the burdens of leadership. But in that previous ceremony it is HaShem who emanates some of the ruach, the spirit of Moshe to the elders. Here, HaShem tells Moshe to do the transmission himself, and what is transmitted is called Hod. Rashi explains:
ונתתה מהודך עליו – זה קירון עור פנים
“and you shall place some of your Hod – this is the shining of the skin of the face.”
Rashi identifies this mysterious quality as the shining of Moshe’s aura, a phenomenon that the people noticed when Moshe returned from speaking with HaShem on Mount Sinai, after receiving the second set of the Tablets of the Law. Tosafot comments that the crowns received by all Israelites at the revelation at Sinai were the same phenomenon, the Hod (Shabbat, 88a). The rabbinic phrase for this phenomenon is “ קרני הוד – rays of Hod.” According to the Gemara, the aura radiance surrounding the face and the whole body is something that every healthy person has, to some extent, and it can be perceived under certain conditions, if you know the technique (Horiot 12a, Keritot 5b-6a). Rabbi Hayyim Vital explains that the aura is a refraction of the life force through the body, and while this occurs in every healthy, moral person, it is more pronounced and perceptible in righteous, enlightened people who have purified their bodies physically, morally and spiritually, and it was overwhelmingly obvious to everyone in Moshe Rabbenu (Sha’ar Ruach haKodesh, 3a-5b). To learn to perceive the aura and its fine structure is a basic kabbalistic practice, to this day.
Rebbe Tzadok haKohen of Lublin explains:
מדת ההוד אשר הוא התפשטות מדת הגבורה דמדה זו הקדוש ברוך הוא יראוי ומאוים וכן במדת ההוד שהרי משה רבינו ע”ה שזכה לקרני הוד ייראו מגשת אליו, רק שהגבורה הוא מדה עצמית וההוד ענינו זיו המתפשט מן העצמיות והוא מתפשט מצד מדת הגבורה שהיא המצמצמת כבוד המלך שלא יהיה בהתפשטות כמדת החסד ועל ידי זה מתגלה ההוד והזיו לבד
The quality of the Hod is a spreading forth of the [sefirah] quality of Power, for this quality is awe and fear of the Holy One, blessed be He. This is so, too, in [someone who has] the quality of Hod, for Moshe Rabbenu, peace be upon him, because of the rays of Hod, the people feared to draw near to him. It is just that Power is a quality of essential self, and Hod is the radiance that spreads forth from essential selfhood (Takkanat haShavim, p. 23).
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains further:
רש”ר הירש במדבר פרשת פינחס פרק כז פסוק כ
(כ) ונתתה מהודך עליו. “הוד” קרוב ל”אוד” המורה על הכח הפועל והמניע, והוא קרוב גם ל”עוד” המורה על הווייה נמשכת. לפי זה “הוד” הוא מלוא ההווייה והכח בהופעה. “הוד” מצד העוז והעוצמה – כ”הדר” מצד הכמות. “הוד” הוא גודל האישיות, “הדר” הוא היקף תחום שלטונה:
“And you shall place some of your Hod upon him” – Hod is close in meaning to אוד (a firebrand), indicating the power that acts and motivates, and it is also close in meaning to עוד that indicates continuous being. According to this, Hod is fullness of being and power in manifestation. Hod is of the aspect of power and inner strength, like הדר (Hadar, glory) in terms of quantity. Hod is greatness of personhood, Hadar is the surrounding field of authority.
Rebbe Tzadok and Rav Hirsch agree that Hod is the manifestation of realized selfhood, the power of inner self awareness that projects outwards. Their point is that when this quality is developed it bestows upon a person an authoritative presence, a gravitas, that others perceive. But if this is an aspect of self-realization, how could Moshe himself transmit it to Yehoshua? How can self-realization be transmitted by one self to another self?
Rebbe Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Opt explains:
אוהב ישראל שמות פרשת כי תשא
לזה עשה הקדוש ברוך הוא וב”ש למשה רבינו ע”ה קרני הוד, והוא אור המבהיק לבר מגופא כי נצח והוד הם לבר מגופא ועל ידי ההוד אור המבהיק היו יכולים ישראל להשיג התורה והמצות.
For this purpose the Holy One, blessed be He and blessed be His Name, made for Moshe Rabbenu rays of Hod, the light that shines outward from the body, for Netzach and Hod extend out from the body, and by the agency of the Hod, the shining light, Israel were able to grasp the Torah and the Mitzvot.
The Opter Rebbe notes that Hod is also one of the Sefirot, the very essence of the manifestation of intensive inner divine power. When he says that the Hod shining from Moshe Rabbenu enabled Israel to grasp the Torah and the Mitzvot, he gives us a profound insight. The transmission of Torah from Moshe to Israel was not only about giving them, and us, information through words in a holy book, an object outside of us, about how to behave according to God’s Will in the world. That information is propelled by a dynamic awareness, the manifestation of the inner power of Moshe expressing the power of HaShem that shines within him, awakening each of us to the inner power of HaShem that shines from within us all. This is what Rav Hirsch means when he associates Hod with a “firebrand” that shines itself and can ignite others. In this way each of us, realizing that we are empowered from within by HaShem, has the ability to be the expression of Torah and Mitzvot in this world
The catastrophic collapse of the apartment building in Miami, filled with precious souls, each person with their lives, their loves, their stories – I don’t think we will ever find an answer to why this happened. But if we ask “where is God,” I think we can trust that, whatever happens, HaShem is with them. His Presence shines intimately within each of us always, He is present with each and every person who perished in that tragedy, and He is with them still, now and forever. The prophet Yeshayahu says:
(כו) ישעיהו פרק מ
שְׂאוּ־מָר֨וֹם עֵינֵיכֶ֤ם וּרְאוּ֙ מִי־בָרָ֣א אֵ֔לֶּה הַמּוֹצִ֥יא בְמִסְפָּ֖ר צְבָאָ֑ם לְכֻלָּם֙ בְּשֵׁ֣ם יִקְרָ֔א מֵרֹ֤ב אוֹנִים֙ וְאַמִּ֣יץ כֹּ֔חַ אִ֖ישׁ לֹ֥א נֶעְדָּֽר: ס
Lift your eyes to the heights and see, who created these, who brings forth their hosts by number, each of them He calls by name, from abundance of power and vigorous strength, no person is lost.
No person is lost.