A freylachen un a zisser shabbes!
In this week's Parsha, Pinchas, we begin with Hashem rewarding the vigilantism of Pinchas, engaging him in two distinct covenants, briti shalom, G-d's personal pact of friendship with Pinchas, and brit kehunat olam, in which Pinchas, Aharon's grandson, joins his mishpacha as a Kohen.
Pinchas ben Elazar, kills Zimri ben Salu, prince of Shimon, and Cozbi bat Tzur, a Midieanite heiress. He uses a single spear. As a result of his action, the plague upon b'nei yisroel ceases, and he receives acclaim and divine covenants.
The inevitable question arises as to whether Pinchas' extremist act was justified. Certainly the pshat text suggests so.
The Gemarah in masechet Sanhedrin recounts the events preceding the incident: Zimri brought Cozbi before Moshe. 'Son of Amram,' exclaimed Zimri, 'is this woman forbidden or permitted? And should you say. "She is forbidden", who permitted you Yisro's daughter'? At that moment Moshe forgot the halachah and the entire congregation cried.
Only after this, did Pinchas rise up out of the midst of the kahal with his spear. Pinchas trusts his intuition, taking matters into his hands and his spear, once Moshe clearly cannot determine proper action.
The Gemarah continues by enumerating six miracles enabling Pinchas in his action. While these enumerated miracles are each needed for Pinchas' success, they possess sexually explicit and violent imagery for which repetition remains unnecessary.
The fact that Hashem and the community of angels actively and miraculously enabled Pinchas further suggests divine approval.
Despite the divine approval suggested by these texts, our sages struggle with this incident.
In last week's maftir, of parshas Balak, Pinchas carries out his rash action against Zimri and Kozbi. He is rewarded this week, suggesting that the scholars of Yavneh were uncomfortable with the notion of immediate reward for extremist action in the divine name, and with this in mind divided the incident among the two parshas.
Some scholars, such as the Chasam Sofer's son, the Ktav Sofer, suggest that the antidote to the zealous impulse of Pinchas is his new role as a kohen. By providing Pinchas in the role by which he slaughters animal sacrifices for Hashem, these sages believe he is less likely to engage in further zealous activity. Moreover, the many rigid and defined obligations incumbent on the kohanim served to subdue Pinchas' aggressive urge.
In our physical Torah scroll, the word shalom in the expression of briti shalom is written with a broken vav, as the briti shalom, the covenant of peace between G-d and Pinchas, was broken and not complete and due to his action could never be so. The yud in Pinchas' name is written deliberately small in the text. Why? because through his action, Pinchas diminished the element of the divine within himself and of course, the divine name begins with yud. Pinchas abandons the mercy and loving-kindness of Hashem, so certain of his correctness, that whether he considers personal repentance necessary becomes a question of note.
In the Gemarah, R. Hisda warns against zealotry noting that had Zimri forsaken his mistress and Pinchas slain him, Pinchas would have been executed for his action; and alternatively, had Zimri turned upon Pinchas and slain him, he would not have been executed, since Pinchas was a rodef, a pursuer seeking to kill.
Pinchas, in not recognizing the possibility of Zimri's repentance, endangers himself and those around him. By not seeing the potential in others for goodness, he dooms Zimri and his tribe. In the census conducted later in this parsha, we discover that under Zimri's leadership, the tribe of Shimon declined from the third most populous after only Yehuda and Dan, to the smallest, to a number less than even the Leviim, a 62.6% population decline since parshas B'midbar. While Zimri led his tribe to idolatry at Baal-Peor and provoked divine punishment, proper intervention could have potentially yielded a more positive result for all involved parties.
Interestingly, through this same census we discover in pasuk 11, that the sons of Korach are alive, repentant, and thriving. They likely authored those tehillim which begin by mention of Korach's name. Despite the fate of their father, they dedicate themselves to Hashem and Torah.
I'm reminded of a classic mushel, a parable. Men come to this rain-maker to ask that he should bring rainfall but he cannot. His wife arrives and at his request prays for rain. The rain falls. His talmidim ask, by what merit did your wife bring rain and you could not? He answers, one time, some years ago, some hooligans ransacked our home. While I prayed for their demise, my wife prayed for their repentance. And, they repented. For this, my wife is greater than I.
Too often we find ourselves close minded, believing, like Pinchas, that we have the only truth, that compromise is unthinkable. Yet we can become like the sons of Korach and like the wife of the rain-maker, working to recognize goodness in those who oppose us and reflecting upon past situations which seem far-less clear cut in retrospect. We possess an enormous potential for t'shuva, for repentance, and for growth. We should encourage others to recognize the legitimacy of our truths as we open ourselves recognize the legitimacy of theirs.
Shabbat Shalom! Gut Shabbes!
-- Andy Green