לכן אמר הנני נתן לו את־בריתי שׁלום׃
והיתה לו ולזרעו אחריו ברית כהנת עולם תחת אשׁר קנא לאלהיו ויכפר על־בני ישׂראל׃
"Pinchas the son of El`azar, the son of Aharon the cohen, has deflected my anger from the people of Isra'el by being as zealous as I am, so that I didn't destroy them in my own zeal. Therefore say, 'I am giving him my covenant of shalom, making a covenant with him and his descendants after him that the office of cohen will be theirs forever.' This is because he was zealous on behalf of his God and made atonement for the people of Isra'el."
(Num 25:11-13 CJB)
PINCHAS THE ZEALOUS ONE
I always find the episode concerning the zeal of Pinchas very dangerous. I feel it is dangerous because it can erroneously be understood by people with a propensity to violence as a justification to vent their natural prejudices. Along with that, this parasha can also be used as a vindication for people to take what they deem to be the law, as well as their rights and cultural prejudices into their own hands without due process. It can even justify murder while sincerely believing that God ordered and blessed it.
It is important when we read the Torah to understand the difference between what is prescriptive and what is descriptive. A lot of what is descriptive is not necessarily prescriptive and a wise Torah teacher should know the difference. In a previous article which I called THE ZEAL OF PINCHAS, I made sure to establish that, whereas the Torah instructs us about the things we should do and the way we should live, the modus operandi can change at different times and different places according to HaShem's directives of the moment.
NO INCONSISTENCY IN THE COMMANDMENTS
Just as the legislations on polygamy do not negate the laws against adultery, the actions of Pinchas do not negate the following commandment agaisnt murder,
"Do not murder. (Exo 20:13 CJB)
As I said before, when reading the Bible, we have to discern between what is prescriptive and what is descriptive. And even when we make that difference, we have to discern between what is for the moment, or for all times; for a particular person or for everyone; in a certain place or everywhere. We also have to understand the mission of the moment.
When Abraham arrived in the Promised Land and found it inhabited, he decided to turn around. He later came back to make a sort of treaty with its inhabitants.
Avram took his wife Sarai, his brother's son Lot, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, as well as the people they had acquired in Haran; then they set out for the land of Kena`an and entered the land of Kena`an. Avram passed through the land to the place called Sh'khem, to the oak of Moreh. The Kena`ani were then in the land. Adonai appeared to Avram and said, "To your descendants I will give this land." So he built an altar there to Adonai, who had appeared to him. He left that place, went to the hill east of Beit-El and pitched his tent. With Beit-El to the west and `Ai to the east, he built an altar there and called on the name of Adonai. Then Avram traveled on, continuing toward the Negev. But there was a famine in the land, so Avram went down into Egypt to stay there, because the famine in the land was severe. (Gen 12:5-10 CJB)
Avram went up from Egypt -- he, his wife and everything he had, and Lot with him -- into the Negev. Avram became wealthy, with much cattle, silver and gold. As he went on his travels from the Negev, he came to Beit-El, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Beit-El and `Ai, where he had first built the altar; and there Avram called on the name of Adonai. (Gen 13:1-4 CJB)
At that time Avimelekh and Pikhol the commander of his army spoke to Avraham. They said, "God is with you in everything you do. Therefore, swear to me here by God that you will never deal falsely with me or with my son or grandson; but according to the kindness with which I have treated you, you will treat me and the land in which you have lived as a foreigner. Avraham said, "I swear it." … Avraham took sheep and cattle and gave them to Avimelekh, and the two of them made a covenant. ... When they made the covenant at Be'er-Sheva, Avimelekh departed with Pikhol the commander of his army and returned to the land of the P'lishtim. Avraham planted a tamarisk tree in Be'er-Sheva, and there he called on the name of Adonai, the everlasting God. Avraham lived for a long time as a foreigner in the land of the P'lishtim. (Gen 21:22-34 CJB)
On the other hand, when the children of Israel arrived from Egypt, they were supposed to go to conquer the Land. Both ideas were right, in their own place , time, and actors.
After the death of Moshe the servant of Adonai, Adonai said to Y'hoshua the son of Nun, Moshe's assistant, "Moshe my servant is dead. So now, get up and cross over this Yarden, you and all the people, to the land I am giving to them, the people of Isra'el. I am giving you every place you will step on with the sole of your foot, as I said to Moshe. All the land from the desert and the L'vanon to the great river, the Euphrates River -- all the land of the Hitti -- and on to the Great Sea in the west will be your territory. No one will be able to withstand you as long as you live. Just as I was with Moshe, so I will be with you. I will neither fail you nor abandon you. (Jos 1:1-5 CJB)
Similarly, when Israel was faced with an invading enemy, prophets did not rely on past instructions in order to lead Israel. They went to HaShem to ask Him what to do. Sometimes HaShem said to fight, sometimes he said not to fight. Sometimes he said to send their musicians in front of the army, and sometimes he said to be ready and wait. One time HaShem even said to surrender to the enemy and not fight at all.
THE ZIGZAG PRINCIPLE
I heard a WW1 story. A young soldier was asked to go behind enemy trenches in order to deliver an important message. "How do you expect me to go there without getting shot by one of the enemy snipers?" the young private asked. "It's easy; you zigzag like a chicken." His officer replied. The young soldier failed in his mission and came back fatally wounded. "What happened?" asked the officer, to which the private replied, "I guess I must have zigged when I should have zagged, and zagged when I should have zigged!" It is also important when we read the Torah to discern when we should zig and when we should zag. Our lives depend on it!
KAVANAH (MOTIVATION) MAKES THE DIFFERENCE.
The Apostle Paul teaches us about zeal in,
True, these teachers are zealous for you, but their motives are not good … To be zealous is good, provided always that the cause is good. (Gal 4:17-18 CJB)
Along with our patriarchs, King David, and the prophets, Pinchas is a testament to zeal for a good cause. But in pondering on the episode with Pinchas, we need to understand what's meant to be our take away. Again in that story, we must discern between what is prescriptive and with what is descriptive.
This rabbi believes that while the action of murdering two2 people is merely descriptive, what is prescriptive in this story is the heart and the motivations of Pinchas, What the Torah intends to teach us through this matter is not to go kill disobedient and rebellious leaders along with their idol worshipping friends, but to have the heart of Pinchas as told in Numbers 25:11,
"Pinchas the son of El`azar, the son of Aharon the cohen, has deflected my anger from the people of Isra'el by being as zealous as I am, so that I didn't destroy them in my own zeal. (Num 25:11 CJB)
The Hebrew text itself says it a little differently. It says that he was “zealous in My zeal בקנאו את־קנאתי”
Rabbi Yehuda Leib Chasman comments about this mention "in" saying that this means that Pinchas had entirely pure intentions. It is easy to give way to our violent, selfish , and vindictive natures while claiming that we are simply led by God’s will. For this rabbi, this sort of thing is equivalent to taking the name of the Lord in vain.
I would dare say that our religious and political world's are full of people who hide their wolfish evil motivations under a sheepish cloak of self-appointed divine appointments, all while proclaiming to advocate for the good and right of the people. But like I heard someone say, "You can fool some of the people all the time and you can fool all the people sometimes, but you can never fool all the people all the time." HaShem knows each of our hearts. Rabbi Zelig Pliskin says, “Zealousness with negative motivations is a crime." Let's now look at some examples of misguided zeal.
EXAMPLES OF MISGUIDED ZEAL
FAME/PRIDE/RECOGNITION: Someone may feel ignored in life and really want to be valued, validated, and recognised. As such they get involved in some sort of zealous philanthropic, religious, or political activity proclaiming the great virtue of the project. While the project may certainly be worthwhile, the motivation is for selfish gains, or personal recognition and validation. Both the Talmud and Yeshua teach us that these attitudes are wrong.
"Be careful not to parade your acts of tzedakah in front of people in order to be seen by them! If you do, you have no reward from your Father in heaven. (Mat 6:1 CJB)
ADDICTION TO ADRENALINE: One may easily feel bored and constantly in search of action. While the action may benefit other people, the motivation is that of fulfilling a personal need for constant activity. Whereas the action may be good, it resembles using the misery of others to soothe our own boredom. People who have a constant need for action need rather to self-discipline themselves in personal reflection and contemplation in the Torah which says.
"Desist, and learn that I am God, supreme over the nations, supreme over the earth." (Psa 46:10 CJB)
There he went into a cave and spent the night. Then the word of Adonai came to him; he said to him, "What are you doing here, Eliyahu?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for Adonai the God of armies, because the people of Isra'el have abandoned your covenant, broken down your altars and killed your prophets with the sword. Now I'm the only one left, and they're coming after me to kill me too." He said, "Go outside, and stand on the mountain before Adonai"; and right then and there, Adonai went past. A mighty blast of wind tore the mountains apart and broke the rocks in pieces before Adonai, but Adonai was not in the wind. After the wind came an earthquake, but Adonai was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake, fire broke out; but Adonai was not in the fire. And after the fire came a quiet, subdued voice. When Eliyahu heard it, he covered his face with his cloak, stepped out and stood at the entrance to the cave. Then a voice came to him and said, "What are you doing here, Eliyahu?" (1Ki 19:9-13 CJB)
GRUDGE/DESIRE FOR REVENGE: It is easy to make a claim for justice when actually all we are doing is giving way to our own vengeful heart in very disobedience to the Torah command that forbids holding grudges and commands us to leave vengeance into God's hands.
Don't take vengeance on or bear a grudge against any of your people; rather, love your neighbor as yourself; I am Adonai. (Lev 19:18 CJB)
Vengeance and payback are mine ...' (Deu 32:35 CJB)
ENVY: We can also hide a covetous heart under a cloak of righteousness. It is easy to find wrong and criticise people for some unrelated fault when actually our whole motivation for dissing them is envy of their position or wealth. This was the sin of Korach. He was hiding jealousy and envy towards Moses' position,while proclaiming to stand for the rights of the people, claiming that they too should be considered as holy prophets. The Talmud also teaches that his criticism of Moses was because he had been passed-by for a leadership position. Jealousy and envy are often the motivation for publicly correcting people thus embarrassing them. Somehow, it is hard to get away from the feeling that our candle shines brighter when we put others down.
FINANCIAL GAIN. Advertisements always start by saying they’re fulfilling our needs, but in fact the motivation is to line their own pockets. Acts of charity also can often be a cloak for personal financial benefits.
Finally, The Talmud teaches that whatever the personal evil motivations are, acts of zealousness for personal gain are a sin. They are often equated with what is called “Chilul HaShem”, or the desecration of the Name of the Almighty.
MAY WE LEARN FROM PINCHAS TO EXERT HASHEM’S ZEAL,
NOT OUR OWN MISGUIDED AND MOTIVATED ONE.
R’ Gavriel Lumbroso