Perashat Pinhas 5777
Perashat Pinhas 5777Friday, July 14, 2017
This week's perasha, Pinhas, is a continuation of last week's perasha which described the wicked sorcerer Bil'am's failure to curse Benei Yisrael. Despite his failure, he had one last hope. Knowing that sexual morality is the foundation of Jewish holiness and that Hashem does not tolerate immorality, Bil'am advised Balak to entice Jewish men to engage in debauchery. Balak was so determined to destroy Benei Yisrael that he succeeded in convincing the aristocracy of his people to send their daughters to carry out this plan. In the beginning they were only successful in enticing the masses, the young and the restless, but their intent was to entice the major leaders such as Moshe. Having failed to do that, they turned to the leaders of lesser rank and finally succeeded in ensnaring Zimri, a prince of the tribe of Shimon. In a shocking exhibition of brazenness he brought his paramour Kozbi, a Midianite princess, right in front of Moshe and the elders at the entrance of the Tent of Assembly and sinned in public view. Moshe and the elders were shocked to the point that they were at a loss as to how to react. At the same time, a plague started in the Israelite camp as a reaction to these sins. Nobody reacted to this event except for Pinhas, the grandson of Aharon. Pinhas could not tolerate the blatant disrespect to Hashem, and he slayed Zimri and his paramour right in front of these leaders. Thus the plague was stopped.
Pinhas's zealousness prevented the annihilation of the nation, and yet there were leaders who opposed his actions and cast doubt on the legitimacy of the murder of their prince and the foreign princess. These elders wanted to excommunicate him. They feared that this act of zealousness would become the new norm used to solve complicated problems. This is where our perasha picks up, with Hashem praising Pinhas's action of risking his own life to preserve Hashem's honor and to stop the plague. Hashem responds to the apprehension of these elders by giving Pinhas a special blessing, "Behold, I give him My covenant of peace."
Pinhas's action was necessary because the people were swept up in the spirit of rebellion, and in such a case, especially when people are swept up with such strong immoral desires, speaking logic to them would not help. Only shock treatment could bring back their sanity.
Righteous as Pinhas's action may have been, it was not really an act of peace. So why did Hashem bless Pinhas with the blessing of peace? We know that Hashem deals with us middah keneged middah, a measure for measure. Then why is the reward so contrary to his deed?
The commentary Ha'amek Dabar gives a remarkable answer to this. He says that the blessing Hashem gave Pinhas was the berakha of peace because the violent nature of his action could have scarred him by leaving its imprint on him. In order to counter this, Hashem blessed him with peace.
The Ha'amek Dabar is teaching us that zealotry is indeed dangerous. A person who commits a violent act, even when required to do so, may become increasingly violent and end up using violence when it is not called for. Hashem had to bless him with a covenant of peace in order to prevent him from misusing violence in the future.
There is a famous quote attributed to Golda Meir that represents this idea quite well: "When peace comes we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for turning our sons into killers." History has taught us that soldiers coming back from fighting, even though they were fighting to defend democracy, cannot possibly be the same as they were when they set out on their mission.
Even though we do not go around killing people to avenge Hashem's honor nowadays, we must still stand up for the truth, and when we stand up for the truth, we must be very careful that our souls do not become damaged. We must demonstrate the capacity for mercy and uphold Hashem's "Covenant of Peace."
May 31 2020
Sivan 8 5780