beginning of this week’s portion deals with the bestowing of the honor of
priesthood — the covenant of peace — onto Pinchas, son of Elazar and
grandson of Aron the Kohein (priest). What did Pinchas do to deserve this
last week’s portion, Balak attempted to hire Bilam to curse the Jewish people.
After having been foiled by G-d, Balak moved on to plan B. This plan entailed
enticing the Jewish people through idolatry and sexual immorality.
this plan had a degree of success as 14,000 people died in the ensuing plague as
a punishment for having been involved. While this was happening, the leader of
the tribe of Shimon, Zimri, took a Midianite woman, Kozbi, and consorted with
her. Meanwhile, Moshe and the other leaders were crying, as they were unable to
remember what the law called for.
that point Pinchas approached Moshe and reminded him that he had taught that
when a Jew has relations with a non-Jew, zealots may kill him (this is brought
down in tractate Sanhedrin 81b). Moshe replied that since it was Pinchas who
recalled the law, he should carry it out. Pinchas did so, killing both Zimri and
does it mean that zealots may punish?
May other people not inflict punishment, and if not, how do we determine
who is a zealot?
zealot is a person who sees the honor of G-d being publicly desecrated and
cannot bear the sight.
Pinchas saw Zimri commit this terrible sin in the open (Zimri took
Kozbi into a tent and made public his intentions) he was unable to bear
it. He literally felt that he was unable to live as this disgusting act was
taking place. That is a zealot - someone whose love for G-d burns so brightly.
This is the ideal we should all strive for: not that we are Jews who merely go
through the motions, but we are Jews who feel a real passion for Judaism.
we see the reward Pinchas received: the covenant of peace. How do we give
someone a covenant of peace who has shed blood? True peace is peace between us
and G-d. Pinchas restored this peace to the Jewish people. The Ramban says that
Pinchas’ act actually prevented the hanging of many Jews who, after they saw
what Pinchas did, ended the orgy of sin.
Pinchas is lesson to all of us to take our Judaism seriously. I wish to state at this point that this D'var Torah is NOT a call to the Jewish people to kill other Jews (this law of zealotry is suspended right now). It is, however, a call to increase the passion in our lives for Judaism. And when we see our fellow Jews perform and speak out in favor of actions that are contrary to the Torah, that we not sit apathetically on the side, but that we gently reprove our brothers and sisters, and feel the pain of the desecration of G-d’s name.