18 Jul To Temper Our Hubris
Rashi tells us that when Pinchas courageously executed Zimri, the prince of the tribe of
Shimon, for engaging in a public act of immorality with Kozbi, the Midyanite Princess, there
were those who publically insulted Pinchas. They maligned him exclaiming, ‘Look at this
descendant of Yisro, who was once the High priest of On and fattened calves to idolatry. It’s no
surprise that he would act murderously and kill a prince of Israel.’ Rashi concludes that the
Torah testifies to the contrary to rebuff this: Pinchas was a descendant of Aharon, the true man of
Since in reality we know that Pinchas’ act was purely for the sake of Heaven, as he was
rewarded at least remarkable longevity. As the Sifurno testifies, he lived for hundreds of years
until the generation of Yiftach. According the Targum Yonason ben Uziel he became a malach,
an angel, and lived forever, and according to the Pirkei d’Eliezer and Rabbenu Bachya, he
became Eliyahu HaNovi. The common denominator of all of these rewards is that his act was
truly and completely valorous. In light of all these, the Chasam Sofer, Zt”l, Zy”a, poses the
following penetrating question: Why did Hashem allow him to be subjected to such public
ridicule? After all we have a principle, mi’davar tov lo teitzei ha’raah, from something good
there does not emanate bad.
The Chasom Sofer answers with a very fundamental dynamic. Sometimes a great
mitzvah, which by its nature has to be performed publically, can be adulterated by the feeling of
pride that it generates. In order to save the perfection of the mitzvah, Hashem subjects the one
who performs it to some amount of humiliation in order to remove the pitfall of hubris.
The Mishchas Shemen testifies that he knows of very righteous people who, with great
self-sacrifice and dedication, involve themselves with the rarified mitzvah of pidyon shvuyon –
redeeming captives. For all of their hard work and self-sacrifice, they were subjected to
persecution by cynics who claimed that they were pocketing some of the collected monies for
themselves. The Mishchas Shemen explains this unfair response with this Chasam Sofer, saying
that since redeeming captives is a very public mitzvah and can allow one to feel very proud of
him or herself, Hashem tempers it with some ridicule in order to preserve the purity of the
I once had the privilege to know a Mr. Eisen who was a disciple of HaRav Elchonon
Wasserman of Baranovich, Hashem yinkom domo, Zt”l, Zy”a. He told me that Rav Elchonon
posed the following question. It says in the posek, “Hatznei’a leches im Hashem Elokecha –
walk modestly with Hashem your G-d.” What, he queries, is the connection between the
beginning and the end of the verse? He explained it as follows. If a person performs mitzvahs
privately, without thought of receiving accolades or applause, notice or attention, that’s proof
that he is im Hashem Elokecha, doing it to please Hashem and for no other reason. So, as the
Chasam Sofer says, a person might dedicate a 4-wheel drive ambulance to Hatzoloh and come
home and meet derision from his wife that he’s only doing it because he’s full of himself. When
he wonders why Hashem is subjecting him to such a personal letdown, when he really was doing
it to save lives, remember this dynamic. That the momentary unpleasantness he suffered helps to
keep away the Yeitzer Hara of an inflated ego and sinful hubris which threatens to detract from
the greatness of his mitzvah.
May we merit to do many wonderful mitzvahs for the right reasons and in that zchus may
we be blessed with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.
Please learn and daven for the refuah sheleima of Miriam Liba bas Devorah, b’soch shaar
Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’s articles.
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