When relating to struggles, today’s society often downplays the concept of self-control with myriad explanations for why people act or think the way they do. That is not to negate how we are psychologically or physiologically influenced by our upbringing, society, past traumas or cultures, but sometimes it seems as if teaching self-control is not a viable option.
An interesting comment from Ketav Sofer in this week’s Parsha relates to the issue of self-control. The Torah opens this week’s portion delineating Pinchas’s lineage, tracing his roots to his grandfather Aharon Hakohen. Generally, people are referred to by their name, the son of their father. Why was it essential to bring in Aharon, his grandfather too? Rashi (Bamidbar 25:11) highlights that after his brave display of zealotry, people were mocking Pinchas that he was the descendant of an idol worshipper.
Ketav Sofer explains that it seemed to people that the zealotry of Pinchas was based on traits that he inherited from his idol-worshipping maternal grandfather, Yitro, rather than his paternal grandfather, Aharon, the ultimate lover of peace, as the Mishna in Avot states Aharon was:
“אוהב שלום ורודף שלום אוהב את הבריות ומקרבן לתורה”
“Loving peace and pursuing peace, loving the creatures and bringing them closer to Torah.”
Therefore, the Torah states explicitly that Pinchas took after his grandfather Aharon and was given the ברית שלום – the covenant of peace, to show that he was by nature, a calm, merciful and peaceful person. The Torah praises Pinchas for defying his natural tendencies and going out of his comfort zone to bring honour to G-d.
The Vilna Gaon, in his commentary to Mishle (4:13), writes a very profound comment:
“כי מה שהאדם חי הוא כדי לשבור מה שלא שבר עד הנה אותו המדה, לכן צריך תמיד להתחזק, ואם לא התחזק, למה לו חיים.”
“For what man lives for is to break the measure he has not broken until now; therefore, one needs to constantly become stronger, and if he doesn’t get stronger, why does he need to live.”
Every person has challenges in life, but like the Torah teaches us from Pinchas, life is about struggling with those challenges and natural tendencies and figuring out how best to overcome them.
Rabbi Shlomo Gabay