With this article, I begin the forth cycle of Dvar Torahs. Please forgive the lateness, as my computer was giving me trouble. Enjoy!
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At the end of this week's parsha, Balak, we have the story of Zimri who was the Nassi (the leader) of the tribe of Shimon, who together with others, were tempted into having relationships with Midianite women. The Midianites put their daughters up to doing it, even the king of Midian, Tzur, sent his own daughter, the princess Kozbi, to take part in the scheme.
What was the point of this scheme? As the Jewish people made their way to the Holy Land, all the nations were afraid to engage them in battle. Not because the Jewish people had a powerful army, they certainly did not, but because they realized that Hashem was with them and was granting them miraculous victories over very mighty nations. They searched for a way to get us to do something that will put us at odds with Hashem. They reasoned that our close connection to Hashem, was because of our holiness and purity, and they were right. How can they get us to betray Hashem and defile ourselves? Their answer was this ploy, and to some extent, it worked.
The story continues that Zimri took Kozbi to be with him, and Pinchas killed them, saving the Jewish people.
The Midrash tells us that Zimri brought Kozbi before Moshe and asked him, "Is she allowed or forbidden? And if you say she is forbidden, then who permitted the daughter of Yisro (a Midianite) to you? The law was hidden from him (from Moshe)." Which law did he forget? The Midrash continues that Pinchas "saw what (Zimri) was doing and he remembered the law..., that one who does a carnal act with a non Jewish woman, zealots may take action against him."
Why was Moshe allowed to marry Tzipora, Yisro's daughter? And why didn't Moshe answer Zimri, and explain how it was different?
Moshe married Tzipora before the receiving the Torah, and standing at Mount Sinai we all became Jewish together including Tzipora. So she was definitely permitted to him.
However during the inauguration of the Mishkan, Moshe played the role of Kohen, and according to some opinions, this put him in the status of Kohen for the rest of his life. A Kohen has to keep to a higher standard, he is not allowed to marry a convert, someone who was previously from a different nation. So it seems like Zimri had a good question.
The rule is that a Kohen can marry a widow, a Kohen Gadol cannot, but if he married a widow before becoming a Kohen Gadol, they are permitted to remain together, because when they got married they were allowed to marry.
The same could be said for Moshe, when he and Tzipora married, because it was permitted, now that he was a Kohen, they could stay together.
The Talmud tells us that the law of Jewish marriage was given to us while we were still in Egypt. Therefore, after the giving of the Torah, there was no need to redo marriages.
So according to all opinions Moshe's marriage to Tzipora before the giving of the Torah was valid and held the weight of the Torah. So why didn't he explain this to Zimri? Zimri wanted to blatantly take a non Jewish woman, and he knew that it was clearly forbidden.
There is a rule that a sage that teaches Jewish law, who is asked about a law when he is in a similar situation, is not supposed to respond, because he is not believed to say, "so has the oral tradition been transmitted to me," in this case. It is like a judge that recuses himself from a case because he has a stake in the outcome of the case.
This is one reason that Moshe wouldn't respond.
Another reason is a practical one. When a person asks a question sincerely, you should try to give him or her the answer. However, sometimes a person asks a question insincerely, and he doesn't really want your answer. He just wants to do what he wants, and engaging him in this discussion, will only bring you down to his level. In this case, Zimri clearly knew the law, he didn't really care for an answer.
The same is true when the evil inclination tries to engage you to do something wrong. He is insincere, and he doesn't have your best interest in mind. Don't even entertain the thought, he is a nudnik, don't let him bring you down to his level. Instead drag him with you to do something that Hashem wants, like learning Torah or some other mitzvah.
I remember when I first went out to be a rabbi, when I started giving classes. Young and naive, I would engage every nudnik and try to answer their questions. It would leave me feeling empty and like I wasted my time. So I took a new approach. When I would be asked that kind of question, I would say, "good question," and then I would invite them to learn. Most of the time, they would enjoy the Torah study, and forget about their question. As it turned out, they weren't nudniks at all, and many became life long friends.
May we have the strength to persevere and overcome the evil inclination and get closer to Hashem. And may we soon merit to see the coming of Moshiach. The time has come.