Pinchas saw Zimri acting in a morally aberrational manner. He immediately grabbed a spear and put an end to the mutinous repugnancy that was taking place. Everyone else stood around wondering what to do. Pinchas saw and acted. Why does the Torah emphasize that Pinchas went to secure a spear and then used it to slay the two sinners? Could it not simply have said that Pinchas saw what was occurring, and he responded accordingly? Why did the Torah underscore that he took a spear?
The Tolna Rebbe, Shlita, offers a practical, but powerful, response. The Torah is teaching us that there are two types of kanaim, zealots: There are those who walk around with spears in their hands, searching for someone to kill. These are sick people whose mission in life is to stir up trouble and destroy lives. They do not care what the protest is about, nor against whom they are protesting. The are like sharks who swim in the water ready to pounce upon the first sign of blood.
Pinchas was not like that. He was a peace-loving Jew who saw a tragedy taking place. He then searched for a spear to carry out the appropriate halachah. Raah maaseh v’nizkar halachah, “He saw an action, and (then) he remembered the halachah.” Pinchas acted reluctantly out of a need to respond to a desecration of Divine Authority.
One may express his passion for serving Hashem in various ways. Some call attention to their davening or learning by the high volume level of their recitation. Others do the same thing – but without fanfare. It is from the heart. When the “pot” is boiling, it gives off steam.
A Karliner Chasid once had occasion to be in Vienna for Shabbos. He visited Horav Yisrael Chortkover, zl, and asked his permission to daven in the Chortkover bais ha’knesses, shul. The Rebbe responded, wondering why one would need permission to daven in the shul. A synagogue is open and free to all who enter. Why should the Chortkover shul be any different? The chasid explained that he was from Karlin, a chassidus whose service to the Almighty is expressed with great passion amid high volume. The chassidim literally raise their voices to screaming level as they expound the glory of Hashem. A polite person, the chasid did not want to offend or disturb another Jew with his davening.
The Rebbe replied with an invitation to join them for davening, with one stipulation: tone it down. In Chortkov, the service was much more disciplined, and they wanted to maintain this form of prayer service. The chasid accepted the Rebbe’s request, saying that he would “restrain” himself from any form of high volume self-expression.
On Shabbos morning, the chasid came to shul, took a seat and began to pray. His voice was controlled, as he poured out his love for Hashem in the Pesukei D’Zimra prayers. All was going well until he reached the Nishmas prayer, which is an exaltation of Hashem’s glory. The chasid “lost it.” Forgetting that he had given his word to the Rebbe, he allowed his emotions to reverberate with the inspirational text of the tefillah, prayer. He screamed with adulation as he articulated Hashem’s praises. His voice and passion reached a frenzy with each passing word. He realized too late that he had reneged on his word to the Rebbe. One does not play with fire, and only a fool starts up with a tzaddik, righteous person. He was determined to apologize for his lack of self-control.
After waiting in line for a while, he finally entered the Rebbe’s office. With tears streaming down his face, he brokenheartedly apologized for breaking his word by screaming during davening. “Why should a Jew who davens with passion feel the need to apologize?” asked the Rebbe.
The chasid was shaken up. What did the Rebbe mean? He had expressly told him the other day that he must tone it down. Now he was saying that a Jew should be allowed to express his fervor in prayer. “Rebbe, prior to Shabbos, the Rebbe expressed his displeasure with my high decibel davening. Why does the Rebbe now change his position?” the chasid respectfully asked.
The Rebbe laughed and said, “When you approached me prior to Shabbos, I responded negatively to your request. The reason is simple: We are not interested in – nor do we countenance – “made-to-order screaming.” Prepared high decibel prayer is frowned upon in my bais medrash. When you came to daven, however, and your passion got the better of you – that is davening! Such passion is acceptable and encouraged.”
In his Nitzotzos, Horav Yitzchak Hershkowitz, Shlita, quotes an episode which took place concerning the Strelisker Rebbetzin, wife of the holy Horav Uri, zl, m’Strelisk, who once told a German Jew who had come to visit, “When one’s heart is on fire, he screams!” She made the comment in regard to the following incident:
Rav Uri was referred to as the Saraf, Fiery (Angel), of Strelisk. A Saraf is one level above the “average” Heavenly Angel. He was known to scream loudly during his davening. One day, this German Jew visited the Chasidic court of Strelisk. After spending a few days in the proximity of the holy Rebbe, he was approached by the Rebbetzin, who asked, “Nu, how do you feel here? What are your observations of Strelisk?”
“Everything is wonderful. I am very impressed and inspired. There is, however, one thing which troubles me, but it is not important.”
The Rebbetzin was not accepting this as an answer. If something troubled the Jew, she wanted to know what it was. Perhaps she could enlighten him. “What is it that troubles you?” she asked.
“I have a problem with the Rebbe screaming during davening. Prayer is a personal thing and should be expressed in a quiet, almost intimate manner,” the German Jew respectfully replied.
“When the heart is aflame, one must cry out. The Rebbe’s heart is burning with passion and love for Hashem. Therefore, he expresses himself accordingly” said the Rebbetzin.
“I, too, have a burning heart; yet, I control myself,” the man countered.
The Rebbetzin understood that there is no end to such a debate. She bid the man good day and they both went about their business. That Erev Shabbos, the German Jew approached the Rebbetzin with a request. Since he was traveling with a considerable sum of money, which he felt was not safe to leave over Shabbos at the inn where he was staying, could he perhaps deposit it with the Rebbetzin for the duration of Shabbos? The Rebbetzin gladly acquiesced.
On Motzoei Shabbos, the man returned and asked the Rebbetzin for his money. The Rebbetzin asked him, “What money?”
“Rebbetzin, my money that I gave you before Shabbos. I need it.” the man replied somewhat impatiently.
“Perhaps you are mistaken,” the Rebbetzin replied. “What money did you leave with me?”
“Rebbetzin, this is not a time for games! I need my money – and I need it now!” the man began to scream. “Please do not test my patience!”
“Perhaps you gave the money to someone else,” the Rebbetzin suggested.
This was the proverbial straw that changed this calm, disciplined, refined man into a screaming lunatic. “How dare you take my money?” the man began to scream. “I gave you money; I trusted you; and now you deny me my money?” the man began to rant and rave.
Finally, the Rebbetzin said, “You must relax, calm down. You will get sick from all the screaming.”
“Calm down!” the man screamed. “How can I calm down when my heart is burning?”
“Ah ha! Your heart is burning,” the Rebbetzin began. “When it hurts, one cries out. It all depends when one cries. If one’s heart is aflame during davening, this is an indication that his heart burns with yiraas Shomayim, Fear of Heaven. If one cries, however, when he thinks he has lost money, such tears are, regrettably, an indication of his real values.”