Selected Sermon/Article
2010-07-02 Beyond Twelve Gates (BTG) by Rabbi Zeev Smason
Parshas Pinchas


Beyond Twelve Gates  -  Rabbi Ze'ev Smason
Parshas Pinchas  --  June 2, 2010



Welcome to Beyond Twelve Gates. Do you have a passion that you pursue?  Mark Twain once said, "I am opposed to millionaires, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position."  Perhaps Gary Buslik had Twain's quote in mind when he made a surprising decision.   Buslik, of Chicago, had previously started an alarm company that grew to $6 million in annual sales and earned him $500,000 a year.  But he wasn't happy.  "My passion was literature, not alarm systems," he said.


So when Buslik turned 50, in 1997, he sold his business in order to pursue that passion. With a recommendation from a pal who was an assistant dean, he got into the English Ph.D. program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  In return for his work as a TA, the school waived his tuition. Buslik graduated in 2007 and now teaches there part-time while writing books on the side. He makes just $13,500 a year, but says, "I've never regretted my decision. I'm content to be sending Shakespeare lovers into the world."


If G-d came to you and said, "I want you to be happy for the rest of your life," what would you do?  The more passions and desires one has, the more ways one has of being happy.


Parshas Pinchas     Numbers  25:10 - 30:1  


In last week's Torah portion we found the Jewish hero Pinchas saving the day for the Jewish people, by publicly executing the Jewish tribal head, Zimri, and his Midianite girlfriend, Kazbi.  Those two had desecrated the Name of G-d and His Torah by having relations in plain view of Moses and the entire Jewish leadership.  (I suppose you could say it was the very first 'Kazbi Show'.)  This week, Pinchas is rewarded for sanctifying the Name of G-d and is granted the blessing of peace and priesthood (kahuna).   Pinchas' zealous response saves the Jewish people from a plague which had broken out in the camp.


Five righteous daughters of Tzelofchad file a claim with Moses: in the absence of a brother, they request their deceased father's share in the Land of Israel.  Moses asks G-d for a ruling. The Almighty responds that the claim of these five women who so dearly love the Land of Israel is, indeed, just.


Moses is told that he will ascend a mountain to view the Land that the Jewish people will soon inherit, although he will not be allowed to enter.  Moses asks G-d to appoint a successor.  Do you know who is chosen?   Joshua, Moses' dedicated assistant and student.    The Torah portion concludes with a lengthy description of the special offerings to be brought on the various festivals.   These sections are also read from the Torah throughout the year on the appropriate holidays. 


Rabbinic Ruminations


Tim Scott had a run-in with a 'Bad News Bear' this past Sunday. But can a bear be bad? Scott, 56, an avid hiker, was attacked by a black bear in a remote area of Kentucky.  In the first recorded bear attack on a person in Kentucky, the 150 pound bear grabbed Scott by the leg and threw him into the woods. Then, it sank its teeth into his thigh and shook him.  Scott said he tried to think of ways to fight the bear off, reaching into his pocket and finding his 3-inch pocket knife. He was preparing to stab the bear in the eye, not sure what the animal's reaction might be, when a group of hikers who heard the commotion arrived.  One of them took his day pack and threw it at the bear, knocking the animal sideways, and prompting it to release Scott.  The hiker was released from the hospital Monday morning after receiving 50-60 stitches.



Scott said, "This was a private incident between me and a bear.  I was chomped on by a bear, and he was a bad bear, but that doesn't speak of all bears."  



Can an animal be 'bad'?   Unlike human beings, animals do not have free will.   The Torah teaches that the capacity to recognize and choose between good and evil is a feature unique to humans.   The classic understanding of man as created "In the image of G-d" means that he alone can identify right and wrong and make moral or immoral choices.  An animal may be dangerous.  A bear may be 'bad' in the sense that it should be avoided at all costs.  But only the descendants of Adam and Eve -- created in the image of G-d -- can recognize good and evil and become like G-d through the proper exercise of the gift of free will.


Quote of the Week


The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending and to have the two as close together as possible -- George Burns



Joke of the Week

Morris' life was in shambles -- his wife left him, taking all the money, kids, the family car, and even the dog.   He didn't know what to do.  So, he went to his Rabbi, and said, "Rabbi, my life is in ruins.  My wife left me, took all the money, kids, car, and even Kreplach, our poor little dog.  PLEASE help me."  The wise Rabbi replied, "open up the Bible to any page and point to a sentence on that page.  Whatever it says, you do."   So, in desperation, Morris went home, took out his dusty Bible from the attic and opened up to a page and pointed.  A few months later, Morris, now wearing a $2000 Italian suit, and with a new wife decked out with a full length mink coat, walked into the Rabbi's study and said, "Rabbi, thanks for the advice. You changed my life!"  The Rabbi asked, "what did I do that helped so much?"  Morris answered, "Well, remember when you told me a couple of months ago to take my Bible, open up to any page, and point?"  "Yes," replied the Rabbi, "what did you point to?"   Morris replied, "Rabbi, I pointed to the words 'Chapter 11.' "





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