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G-d said to Moses: 'Pinchas… appeased My wrath against the Israelites when he executed My vengeance with zeal, so I did not consume the Israelites in My vengeance' (25:10-11).
Both Pinchas (in the Parasha) and Elijah (in the regular Haftara, not read this year) are recorded as Kanaim - zealous. The Yalkut, at the beginning of Parashat Pinchas, records the tradition that Elijah is identified as Pinchas. Hirsch explains this as meaning that the spirit of the zeal of Pinchas was carried on by the Prophet Elijah.
By acting on behalf of G-d in killing Zimri, Pinchas showed zeal. He publicly put an end to the idolatry, adultery and the associated evils flowing from them. And by acting on behalf of G-d in killing the prophets of Baal, Elijah also showed zeal. He publicly struck a blow against the particularly virulent Baal culture imported and imposed on the Northern Kingdom of Israel by King Ahab's foreign wife, Jezebel.
The Talmud (Sandhedrin 82a) explains that the when Zimri confronted Moses with his forbidden female partner, Moses and the elders of Israel did not know what to do. For that reason, "they were weeping at the entrance of the Sanctuary" (25:6). Pinchas. Aaron's grandson stepped forward without asking permission and stabbed the two public offenders to death. G-d shows his approval by elevating him into the hereditary priesthood "because he showed zeal on behalf of G-d and effected atonement for the Israelites" (25:13). Thus it appears that zealotry - acting on one's initiative without the approval of one's superiors can be the right thing to do, even where the leaders of the community would have shaken their heads in doubt if consulted beforehand.
This may be explained in the following way. It is not only the act of zealotry that makes an impact on the public. But it is also the way it is carried out. It may be compared to two entertainers that tell the same joke. The first loves his vocation and believes in his mission. Getting other people to put their worries and concerns to the side and emit huge belly-laughs are the ways he adds to the sum of human happiness and well-being. As he mounts the rostrum, the audience begins to chuckle in anticipation. As the act reaches its climax, the audience is rolling off the chairs with laughter. And nobody can say why. Pressed to comment, the intelligent will talk about his having "the elusive obvious". But nobody precisely gets what that elusive obvious is.
The second is in the entertainment business only for one thing only; it's "just a job". He could approach the same public, do the same act with the same precise movements, and leave the stage with a stone-cold, unmoved, contemptuous glare from the audience. Pressed to comment, the intelligent will talk about his lacking "the elusive obvious". But again, nobody could say precisely what that elusive obvious is that he does not have.
The answer is that the elusive obvious is a vibe. Humans do have a seventh sense; they know where the entertainment is coming from. It is all about non-verbal communication. When it comes from the soul of the entertainer, it touches the right vibes with the audience and carries them along smoothly and seamlessly. But when it is "put on", it is a product of rehearsed actions, coming from the teeth rather than from the heart. It annoys and antagonizes the audience. The vibes don't harmonize with the audience. They are discordant.
This principle can explain why Moses and their elders had their doubts about the merits of zealotry. What impact would Pinchas' having killed Zimri on his own initiative made on the Israelites? Would they see him as a fanatic, which would have made the situation only worse? Or would they see him as a courageous visionary?
The answer lies in the motives of the person - why does he perform the act in the first place? Is he using this situation as a short-cut opportunity to personal distinction, or is he doing it solely out of the motive of "it's the right thing to do in that situation and at that moment"?
Moses had his doubts. G-d reassured him after the act by declaring that Pinchas was a true zealot. He had "executed My vengeance with zeal". He had killed Zimri because of one reason only - it was what had to be done in the circumstances. It was what indeed G-d wanted.
And the Israelites indeed concurred as although they were deeply involved in the worship of Baal Peor, they did not react negatively to Pinchas' intervention.
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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