Throughout the Torah, there are many heroes with awe-inspiring ascents to greatness. When we think of Moshe Rabbeinu, we picture a burning bush, a dramatic confrontation with Pharaoh, and a spectacular splitting of the sea. When we consider Avraham, we imagine a man thrown into the flames, undergoing bris milah at 100 years of age, and the willingness to sacrifice his designated son on the altar. However, when we think of Pinchas, what do we see? The image is hazy, evoking conflicting emotions, and begging for explanation. Let us start from the very beginning of Parshas Pinchas, which follows immediately after the events of the previous parshah, Parshas Balak.

It was a stormy night, and a battleship was on exercise at sea. The captain stood on the bridge, looking into the foggy night ahead of him. Suddenly, he heard the lookout shout from the observation post. “There’s a light on the starboard side!”

The power and proper use of intellect is an oft misunderstood concept in the Western world, making this week’s parshah all the more important to understand. Parshas Chukas introduces us to the paradigmatic chok, the mitzvah of Parah Adumah (the Red Heifer). A chok is commonly understood in contrast to a mishpat. A mishpat represents a rational, intuitive Torah law, such as the prohibitions against murder and stealing, and the command to give charity. Such laws appeal to the human intellect and align with the innate moral compass present within all human beings, irrespective of religion, race, or ethnicity. A chok, on the other hand, refers to a Torah law that seemingly defies human logic and rational explanation, such as the Parah Adumah, Kashrus (Jewish dietary laws), and Shaatnez (the prohibition of mixing wool and linen).

Consider a reality in which you had access to all wisdom and could experience and grasp it all instantaneously. It is so difficult to imagine this, because it is nearly impossible to think about something that you have never experienced before; just try thinking of a color that doesn’t exist.

Have you ever felt on top of the world, energy pulsing through your veins, ready to take on any challenge that comes your way? Most people, at some point in their lives, have felt invincible, unstoppable, almost G-dly. And yet, these very same people, at other points in their lives, have felt weak, incapable, deflated, and worthless. If we take a step outside ourselves, and realize that everyone experiences this, we are likely struck by how strange and paradoxical this experience is. How can we feel so capable and then so powerless, so brilliant and then so worthless, so full and then so empty, in such a short span of time [or maybe even simultaneously]? There is a fundamental truth that lies at the root of this experience, one that sheds light on the inner meaning of a strange event in Parshas Korach.

When you wake up in the morning, how do you start your day? Many people immediately take out their phones, look at their messages, and are bombarded by a rush of incoming data. But in doing so, we begin our day in a reactive state, allowing external stimuli to become the foundation of our day. With that starting point, it is all too easy for the entire day to become one long reactive experience. Highly successful people do not immediately look at their phones upon waking. Rather, they engage in mindful, productive tasks upon waking, creating proactive momentum to their morning. This allows them to choose what to think about and what to focus on, enabling them to accomplish their goals throughout the day. Instead of allowing external stimuli to guide their first waking thoughts, they replace that with mindful, guided, and goal-oriented thinking. Davening in the morning accomplishes this exact goal, providing us with a structured way to begin our day with mindfulness and directed thought.

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