Congregation Ohave Shalom - Young Israel of Pawtucket

On-line Tanach Class
Chafni and Pinchas, the Sons of Eli

Tanach Class: Chafni and Pinchas, Part I


This week we began our look at Chafni and Pinchas.

During the time of the Judges, an era which spanned from when Yehoshua's generation died until Shaul's coronation, the Mishkan (tabernacle) rested in a city named Shiloh. Eli was the last Kohen Gadol there; he was Kohen Gadol for 40 years, during a period which was approximately three hundred years after the Jews entered Israel. Chafni and Pinchas were Eli's sons.

The Behavior of Chafni and Pinchas
Chafni and Pinchas appear, primarily, in the beginning of the book of Shemuel. As Eli's sons, they had the run of the Beis haMikdash. Their administrative role grew as Eli aged; by the time Eli died, at age 98, he was blind and infirm. Chafni and Pinchas took advantage of their powers to enrich and indulge themselves, as we shall see.

In the 2nd chapter of Shemuel I (2:12-17), we are told that Chafni and Pinchas customarily took a double share from peoples' offerings - they took the share of the Kohanim, and then they insisted on taking from the share belonging to the offerings' owners. In addition, they insisted on getting their share before the offering could be brought, delaying the offering until they had their fill.

Shemuel, who was a Levite, was a trainee under Eli. While he may have known what Chafni and Pinchas were doing, he was significantly younger than they were, and that may explain why he said nothing. [We know (Shemuel I 1:3) that they had been serving in the Beis haMikdash since before his birth, but we don't know the precise age difference.]

Eli's Rebuke
Eli heard about what his sons were doing, and he attempted to rebuke them. Shemuel I 2:22 records an additional sin which Eli heard about - that Chafni and Pinchas were sleeping with the women who came to bring offerings in the Temple. Eli would tell his children, ineffectually, that their actions were improper.

Shemuel I 2:25 actually says, "They didn't listen to their father's voice, because HaShem wanted to kill them." The commentators deal with the difficulty inherent in HaShem withholding the opportunity for repentance:

1. Radak (2:25) - HaShem knew that they might stop practicing their sins, but they wouldn't repent in their hearts, and so their previous actions would still warrant punishment. If they were to stop practicing their evil ways, people would not understand HaShem's punishment and would think HaShem unjust. Similarly, Ralbag (2:25) suggests that HaShem withheld the capacity for repentance in order to be able to teach a lesson to the Jews.

2. Ralbag (2:25) - Alternatively, they had some other sin for which their lives were forfeit, so Teshuvah on this wouldn't have helped.

3. Ralbag (2:25) - Alternatively, HaShem didn't actually remove their capacity for repentance. All events are in line with HaShem's Will, and that is what the verse was expressing. This is similar to Lavan's statement to Eliezer regarding Rivkah, "And she will be a wife for the son of your master, as Gd has spoken."

Interestingly, the Gemara (Niddah 70b) indicates that had Chafni and Pinchas managed to repent, HaShem would have accepted it.

HaShem sent a prophet to Eli (Shemuel I 2:27-36), telling him of a terrible curse which would befall his household. All of his descendants would die young, and they would have to beg other Kohanim to share their portions with them.

HaShem Appears to Shemuel
HaShem then appeared to Shemuel (Shemuel I 3:1-9), and told him that Chafni and Pinchas and their family would suffer for their sins. It is not clear why HaShem told Shemuel about this. Perhaps the purpose was to make sure he wouldn't follow their path.

The Midrash (Midrash Tanchuma Vayyera 6) identifies a pattern of HaShem informing righteous people of punishments to come on people who sinned: Avraham was told about Sdom, Yehoshua was told about Achan, and Shemuel was told about Chafni and Pinchas.

Chafni and Pinchas Die in War
In Shemuel I 4, Chafni and Pinchas die in war:

The Jews lost a battle against the Plishtim, suffering 4000 casualties. The Midrash (Eliyahu Rabbah 12) says that the 4000 died because of the sins of Chafni and Pinchas. When the Jews protested to Gd, HaShem responded, "Did you protest when Chafni and Pinchas did the things they did?"

The elders decided they had lost this battle because they hadn't brought the Ark, containing the Tablets, from Shiloh. Chafni and Pinchas brought the Ark, and they went to war against the Plishtim. The Plishtim were intimidated, but they fought back and defeated the Jews, massacring thousands more. The Plishtim took the Ark. Chafni and Pinchas were among the dead; they are listed next to the Ark to indicate that their sin was responsible for the ability of the Plishtim to take the Ark (Rashi Shemuel I 4:4).

There is a tradition in an Aramaic commentary (see Rashi Shemuel I 17:8 and Radak Shemuel I 17:40 that Goliath was the one to kill Chafni and Pinchas. [The time period between this war and the battle between David and Goliath was no more than 40 years, and it actually could have been much more brief.]

As a side note, the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 54:4) links the death of Chafni and Pinchas to an act of Avraham. Avraham made a peace treaty with Avimelech, and gave him 7 lambs without being asked to do so. HaShem said to Avraham, "You gave the Plishtim 7 lambs; they will take 7 Tzaddikim from you - Samson, Chafni and Pinchas, Shaul and Shaul's 3 sons." It is remarkable that this Midrash labels them "Tzaddikim," given what we know about them!

Next time, Gd-willing, we will learn more about Chafni and Pinchas - what, exactly, did they do? Did their father, Eli, do enough to try and stop them? What was behind this curse?

Please note that there will be no Tanach Class next week, as we are davening Minchah early, after the Chanukah Lunch in Shul.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner


Tanach Class: Chafni and Pinchas, Part II


This week we dealt with the question of whether Chafni and Pinchas actually committed the transgressions we mentioned last time, and we also dealt with the question of Eli's responsibility for their acts.

Did Chafni and Pinchas sin?
The Gemara (Pesachim 57a) seems to say that they did sin. The Gemara lists 4 occasions when the Temple "cried out" for the removal of people who had rendered it impure. The first of those 4 was for Chafni and Pinchas.

Similarly, the Gemara (Yuma 9a-b) also says that the Tabernacle in Shiloh was destroyed for two sins, one of which was that of Chafni and Pinchas. [On a similar note, see Rashi Shir haShirim 4:1 and 4:6. For an interesting side note, see Tosafos Niddah 33a.)

Did Chafni and Pinchas commit adultery?
Having said the above, the Gemara (Yuma 9a-b, Shabbos 55b) indicates that Chafni and Pinchas were not guilty of the most serious allegation, that of adultery with the women who brought their offerings to the Tabernacle.

The Gemara, and similar Midrashim, base their contention of innocence on a few different points:
a. Chafni and Pinchas were identified as "Kohanim LaShem," "Servants of Gd." (Shabbos 55b)
b. Chafni and Pinchas were the sons of the great Eli. (Bereishis Rabbah 85:12)
c. Such behavior would have caused an uproar. (Otzar Midrashim pg. 228)
d. Had Chafni and Pinchas been doing that, the prophet who came to rebuke Eli would have mentioned the crime. (Ralbag Shemuel I 2:22)

If they didn't commit adultery, why does Shemuel I 2:22 say they "slept with the women?" The Midrash offers two suggestions:
a. Chafni and Pinchas delayed the women's offerings to take their own share first, and they didn't let the women know about it. In this way, they caused the women to sleep with their husbands improperly, before the offering had been brought. (Aggadas Bereishis 41:4)
b. Chafni and Pinchas caused the women to have to remain in inns overnight, away from their families, and this led to adultery. (Otzar Midrashim pg. 194)

It is clear, regardless of what happened between them and the women, that they sinned in abusing their privileges with the women's offerings. (See Tosafos Shabbos 55b, Midrash Shemuel 6:1 and Sifri Bamidbar 116.)

The Gemara (Shabbos 55b) also records the possibility that of the two brothers, Chafni was the one who sinned, and Pinchas was held liable for the fact that he did not stop Chafni's behavior. As are result, the status of Kohen Gadol continued in Pinchas' line rather than in Chafni's, until the time of King Solomon (Ralbag Shemuel I 4:21).

Where was Eli?
As Chafni and Pinchas were doing these things, where was their father, Eli? We are told (Shemuel I 2:22-25) that Eli rebuked them, to the extent of saying, "Don't do that," "I am hearing terrible things," and "If a man sins against another man, the courts judge him. Who will judge a person who sins against Gd?" Was Eli responsible for his sons, or was this something he could not have stopped?

There are two approaches in the Midrash:

1. Eli was not responsible -
The Midrash (Koheles Rabbah 1:18) points out that some people have many children, and that's a good thing, and others have many children and it's a bad thing. The examples of "good" are Yaakov and Dovid, the latter of which is an interesting example. The examples of "bad" are Eli and Achav. The insinuation is that parents aren't necessarily responsible for everything their kids do.
Similarly, a Midrash (Tanchuma Toldos 1) points out that some children are embarrassed by their parents, like King Yoshiyahu who was embarrassed by his evil predecessors, and some parents are embarrassed by their children, like Eli.
Ralbag (Shemuel I 7:15, Lesson 23) also comments that Eli was not fully responsible (more on this in a minute).

2. Eli was responsible -
At least one Midrashic comment does indicate that Eli was held responsible. Aggadas Bereishis 41:2 points out a textual link between the sins of Chafni and Pinchas and Eli's physical suffering in his old age. Shemuel I 2:17 says that "The sins of the youths were very great, Gedolah Meod." Shemuel I 2:22 then says "veEli Zaken Meod," "Eli grew very old."
Ralbag (Shemuel I 7:15, Lesson 23) suggests that although Eli was not fully responsible, he was responsible to the extent that he didn't give the "right" rebuke, meaning a rebuke which would have worked. Eli was responsible to do his best.

Eli suffered in his old age. The Midrash (Tanchuma Shemini 3) says that one should celebrate his good fortune too much, because all happiness ends. Eli, in his heyday, was King, Kohen Gadol and head of the High Court, before everything went downhill.

The Midrash (Aggadas Bereishis 41:1) also notes that Eli's sons ruined his reputation. They were called "Bnei Beliyaal," which may mean "wicked people" but translates literally as "sons of a person who had nothing good in him." Chafni and Pinchas made Eli look bad; people saw Eli and cursed him for his sons' behavior.

Next week, Gd-willing, we will learn about the curse which HaShem put on Eli's household, and the cure for that curse.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner


Tanach Class: Chafni and Pinchas, Part III


This week we finished our look at Chafni and Pinchas, by examining the curse which HaShem placed on their descendants.

The Curse
As Gd outlined the curse to Eli (Shemuel I 2), and hinted to Shemuel (Shemuel I 3), the curse had three parts:
A. The descendants of Chafni and Pinchas would die young;
B. The descendants of Chafni and Pinchas would not be able to serve in the Mishkan or Beis haMikdash;
C. The descendants of Chafni and Pinchas would be poor, and would have to beg other Kohanim for help.

History of the Curse: Nov
The punishment began with the death of Chafni and Pinchas in the war against the Plishtim. The next stage, according to the Ralbag (Shemuel I 3:10), was in the massacre of Nov. Nov was a town populated exclusively by Kohanim, and they gave King David food and a weapon when he was fleeing from King Saul. King Saul found out, and had them all killed - only one man, Evyasar, survived.

Ralbag and Radak (Shemuel I 22:19) were puzzled that this act was never listed among Saul's sins. They conclude that the Kohanim of Nov were descendants of Chafni and Pinchas, and so there was justification for their deaths. Saul would have to be punished for it, but the effect was mitigated.

History of the Curse: Evyasar
Evyasar, who survived the massacre of Nov, was a direct descendant of Chafni and Pinchas. He joined King David, and ultimately became Kohen Gadol under him. At the end of King David's life, King David's son, Adoniyah, attempted a coup to prevent Shlomo from succeeding King David. Evyasar joined Adoniyah, and as a punishment he was exiled from Yerushalayim. The verses (Melachim I 2:26-27) state that this banishment was a fulfillment of the curse. [See Ralbag Melachim I 2:46 Lesson 6 for an interesting point on this.]

In a little bit, we'll see how Evyasar could have avoided the curse long enough to become Kohen Gadol in the first place.

History of the Curse: Post-Tanach
Several sages of Talmudic times are identified as descendants of Chafni and Pinchas. R' Yochanan tried to ordain R' Chanina and R' Hoshia, but circumstances continually prevented this. They reassured him that he shouldn't be troubled; they were from the house of Eli, and so they couldn't gain power (Sanhedrin 14a).

Rabbah and Abayye were also descendants of Eli (Rosh haShanah 18a, Yevamos 105a). They were able to beat the curse and live longer lives, and we'll see how in a little while. [Some editions have "Rava" rather than "Rabbah," but it is clear that this is an error. See Rashi and Tosafos Rosh haShanah 18a.]

The Midrash (Midrash Shemuel 10:1) records an interesting event. R' Chiyya bar Abba was praying the Amidah, and Rav Kahana, who was significantly younger, was praying behind him. R' Chiyya bar Abba finished the Amidah, but he couldn't cross Rav Kahana's path, as Rav Kahana went on for some time longer after R' Chiyya bar Abba had finished. R' Chiyya bar Abba exclaimed, "These young ones pain their elders by praying for such a long time!" Rav Kahana explained that he was a descendant of Chafni and Pinchas, and he prayed in the hopes that the prayer would earn him a longer life.

The Cure
We see, within Rav Kahana's comment, that there may be a cure for this curse. This may be how Evyasar beat the curse, in becoming Kohen Gadol. The sages actually established a few potential cures:
1. Prayer - As seen in Rav Kahana's story.
2. Torah Study - The Gemara says that Rabbah managed to reach the age of 40 because of his Torah study.
3. Acts of Generosity - The Gemara says that Abayye managed to reach the age of 60 because of his Torah study and his acts of kindness. Similarly, the Midrash (Eliyahu Rabbah 11, and many other locations with slight variations) mentions that either R' Meir or R' Yochanan visited a town where the people died young, and he diagnosed them as descendants of Chafni and Pinchas. He told them to give charity, and that beat the curse.

How could there be an "out" for them? Ralbag points to Shemuel I 3:14, in which Gd says that Chafni and Pinchas will never find atonement with Korbanos. They can't find atonement with offerings - but they can through other means.

Cross-Generational Curses
How can Judaism countenance the concept of a curse which crosses generations? Should descendants be punished for the acts of their ancestors??

Three possible answers come to mind:

1. Yes.
The fact is that people come into this world with all sorts of pre-set characteristics, for both good and bad. People are born with handicaps, and people are born with areas of brilliant talent. This could be such a pre-set characteristic in a person's life. We are very glad to accept this for the good - we pray to Gd to help us in the merit of our ancestors. So, too, we may face punishment for their acts.

2. Yes, if they continue their parents' ways.
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 27b) is bothered by conflicting verses: Devarim 24:16 says, "Each person shall die for his own sin," but Shmos 34:7 says, "He visits the sins of fathers upon their sons." The Gemara resolves this by suggesting that Gd only punishes descendants if they continue the ways of their parents.

3. Yes, because the acts of parents indicate certain inherent traits.
It is possible to suggest that there are inbred traits, both positive and negative, and that a curse like this is desgined to target people with those traits. This is one of the popular explanations for the biblical ban against Jews marrying Moavite males, even after the males convert to Judaism. Their ancestors displayed great cruelty, and the cruelty is "genetic."

Both #2 and #3 work well with the concept of a "cure" for the curse. If the descendant is involved in acts of generosity and furthering of Torah, he shows that he isn't continuing the ways of Chafni and Pinchas, and so he does not deserve the curse; as such, he gets to live.

That's it for our look at Chafni and Pinchas. Next week I will be away; we pick up, Gd-willing, in two weeks, with a new Gemara series which will have an associated email, but which will not be archived on the web site.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner

E-mail our Webmaster/Rabbi