24 Tammuz 5776 פרשת פִּינְחָס, כ”ד תמוז, תשע”ו
To give context for today’s message I would like to start reading to you from Numbers 25:1 Israel settled at Shittim. The people gave themselves over to prostitution with Moabite women.2 These invited them to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down before their gods.3 With Israel thus committed to the Baal of Peor, the LORD’s anger was aroused against them.4 the LORD said to Moses, ‘Take all the leaders of the people. Impale them facing the sun, for the LORD, to deflect his burning anger from Israel.’5 Moses said to the judges of Israel, ‘Each of you will put to death those of his people who have committed themselves to the Baal of Peor.’6 One of the Israelites came along, bringing the Midianite woman into his family, under the very eyes of Moses and the whole community of Israelites as they were weeping at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.7 The priest Pinchas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron, on seeing this, stood up, left the assembly, seized a lance,8 followed the Israelite into the alcove, and there ran them both through, the Israelite and the woman, through the stomach. Thus the plague which had struck the Israelites was arrested.9 In the plague twenty-four thousand of them had died.
These verses precede today’s readings setting the stage for the two people, Zimri and Cozbi who were killed by Pinchas. This is a difficult chapter in certain ways because it deals with zealotry which can appear to be revenge out of anger. We must be careful not to be literalists here where we can become religious fanatics. Our Creator wants us instead to be faithful people. I am not sharing a religion with you but a way of life. We call ourselves Shomer Torah which doesn’t mean that we constantly have to walk around with a Bible under our arms but it means that we live Torah; that we have received His revelation and are fulfilling what He has called us to be. Each one of us has been given the gift of free will which entails responsibility for the good of the community. It is not the same as being libertine. We need to forget the notion that we are the center of the universe. We don’t know very much and we need to keep learning. Fanaticism is not the same as being faithful to serve him with our minds, our understanding and action as we are willing to respond to Him not through force but through our free will. Most religions have so many dos and don’ts in order to try to protect their followers. I as your rabbi have the duty to warn you about the things that our Creator has told us not to do but in the end it is your responsibility and you cannot blame others for your actions. That is why it is so important to understand this portion.
Moshe Rabeinu was at the end of his career; the Creator told him that his time was up and that he needed to let someone else take over. He gave Moshe the instructions to stop the leaders by impaling them in order to put an end to the terrible things that the people were doing. Moshe was now 120 years and he was fed up so he did nothing. Pinchas took matters into his own hands and put a spear through Zimri and Cozbi who were in open defiance of God’s command. Pinchas was not defending the honor of the Creator since He doesn’t need defending, rather he was being faithful to Him and he was protecting his own people. That is obedience. With this action, the plague was brought to a halt however only after 24,000 people died. This number is not literal but can be looked at through Gematria. 12x2x1000= 24,000. Number 12 represent the tribes of Israel. Number 2 means double or more and 1000 is eternal or completion. What the Torah is telling us is that all of Israel was completely responsible for this horrific event. The name Pinchas comes from two words, peh- mouth and nachash – serpent. Words must always be examined in their context and can be taken either in a negative way or positive. Because of his action, the Creator gave Pinchas the Brit Shalom – בְּרִית שָׁלוֹם or covenant of peace and Kehunat olam – בְּרִית כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם or the priesthood forever. Our sages are confused about why the Creator would have given this to Pinchas when he would have inherited it anyways being in the direct lineage of Aaron. In my understanding, the Creator gave this to him because through his action he was credited with being a true priest over and above his inherited rights.
On the other hand however it appears that this action taken by Pinchas was in total contradiction to the manner in which the death penalty was supposed to have been carried out. There needed to be at least two or three witnesses to present the case before the Sanhedrin. How could Pinchas have taken this upon himself? Who gave him the right to condemn them? The action of Pinchas brought Israel back to life. He didn’t do it for the sake of our Creator but for the sake of Israel. There is a very important principle to learn from this — we as a community can never be destroyed from the outside, only from within. Israel as a nation cannot be destroyed by other nations; it can only be destroyed by the action of the people within. That is what was happening at this time. The Creator was about to destroy them. It is important to see what they were doing to be able to see what we are dealing with in this modern age. Harlotry is a sin but it is broader in its scope. Today we have become so liberal that everything is accepted. I have heard “what’s wrong with it if they love each other?” or “you are judgmental, a bigot.” Our Creator does not want us to fall into the trap of being like the other nations. Israel had committed another great mistake like the one we saw in 1Samuel 8 ff when they decided they wanted a king in order to be like the other nations. Today we as a people believe that we no longer need any values, morality or ethics and instead prefer to be libertine copying the rest of the world. Our relationship with the Creator however sets us apart from the rest and we have a responsibility to live at a higher standard.
Our great rabbi and prophet, Messiah Yeshua experienced this as well when he overturned the tables of the money changers at the Temple. The Talmud says that the one who loses his temper cannot be trusted to be a leader in Israel. Yeshua witnessed the crooked business being done by the religious people at the Temple. The people were not allowed to use regular money at the time of the holidays; the Temple had instituted their own monetary system where people were forced to use the money changers who were making huge profits. They were the only ones who were allowed to sell “kosher” animals for the offerings very similar to what is happening today in the religious world. There are so many types of kosher today; it’s good business. When I studied the history of religion, the leaders of one religion sold forgiveness for money; it was and still is good business.
We need to examine the zealotry of Pinchas. He saw that the plague was destroying Israel because of the Moabite and Midianite women. Bilaam knew that he couldn’t curse Israel so he told Balak that the God of Israel was a jealous God and that if the people of Israel were unfaithful to Him, He would destroy them. He told them that these foreign women could get them to bow down to Baal before engaging in sex with them. There is a greater picture to see here. Zimri was from the tribe of Simeon and Pinchas was from the tribe Levi. What did they have in common? Do you remember when the brothers Simeon and Levi defended the honor of their sister Dinah who was raped by the son of the leader of Shechem? They plotted and out of vengeance killed the men of Shechem. Was that out of a sense of zealotry or fanaticism? What did Avinu Jacob do? In Genesis 49: 5 – 7, he scolded them for carrying out their malicious plans and told them they would be scattered throughout Israel. Simeon was absorbed by Judah while the Levites were given a high position. What was the difference between the two tribes? Later we read about the sin of the golden calf and that the Levites were the ones who got upset and slew their own brothers. With that act they stopped the people from destroying Israel from within. The two brothers were vindictive while Pinchas and the Levites acted to protect Israel from self-destruction.
Our Messiah Yeshua did the same thing by overturning the money changer’s tables. He was letting the people know that they didn’t need these things; that they could go directly to the Creator. Most of the religions teach you today that you need to go through them and follow steps one, two and three to get to God. They convince you that they are the conduit to take you to the Creator. There is no religion that has the power to get you close to the Creator; it is He who brings you to Himself. We as fanatic (not faithful) people prefer to hold onto decrees and doctrines made by men instead of acting upon the revelation of the Creator. He gave us free will! Yes we have the responsibility to learn and to act and to do His will. We have a relationship with Him. Most of us fall into the trap of taking one idea completely out of context. If Pinchas killed Zimri and Cozbi does this mean that we need to take it literally and continue to do that today? We would be continuously killing people. Is this what the Creator is asking of us? Of course not. The principle is that we need to be careful that we are not contributing to the destruction of Israel.
I want to bring you a more universal idea about Israel. From the beginning our Creator called “us”. He has always been working with individuals to be part of His community. He began with Abraham Avinu who was not an Israelite. He was an Aramean. The name Israel was given to his grandson Jacob who had twelve sons who became the nation of Israel. The twelve sons did not marry Jewish women. When our rabbis tell us that being a Jew comes from the mother, they are wrong! Even Pinchas’ mother was a Midianite, the daughter of Putiel another name for Jethro. We teach ridiculous things when we say that she converted! It’s time we look at the Scriptures with reverence and understanding not forcing them to say things that we want to make people believe. This is the problem with any religion. They invent and make up things that are simply not there.
What have we done with our rabbi Yeshua known in the Gentile world as Jesus? We made him into someone he was not and in so doing my people, the Jewish people rejected him. They won’t go back to Baal Peor to worship a god made by man. Today we need more men like Pinchas who by his actions helped to avoid the destruction of Israel…not to kill people but to speak the truth. Whether we want to admit it or not, we tend to be very open minded and accepting of everyone. It is one thing to be right and quite another to be wrong. Two wrongs do not make a right; it makes it doubly wrong.
Today the world is politically, theologically and sociologically correct while all that our Creator is asking us to be is morally and ethically correct and to be faithful to His teachings. Just because everyone is doing something, that doesn’t make it right. I remember my parents telling me that just because my friends jump from the roof of a building does that mean I had to do it also. They were protecting me from doing what the others do. That is what Pinchas means today. You do not need to submit to any religion but to the Creator. You do not need to gain His favor by doing a bunch of rules. Our prophet Jeremiah said “who can know the heart of man? It is deceitful but the Creator weighs the heart, the intention, the will and our actions. Are you ready to understand Pinchas in his true light and to also receive the Brit shalom?
When you accept the behavior of the majority as being okay, you may think that you are keeping the peace but all that you are bringing is destruction. Instead you need to stand up not in judgment but in truth for what is right. Everyone is free to do what they want to do but it doesn’t make it right. It is not about fighting but about speaking out. Sadly most of the developed countries today have become wishy-washy. Everything is accepted and that is destroying our society because of our own unwillingness to stand up and speak out for what is right. Pinchas stood up for the welfare of his people not to defend the Creator. How many times have I been told that God is going to punish me for what I believe and send me to hell? These people think that they are defending the honor of God. He doesn’t need defenders. My God is big enough to defend Himself and He doesn’t need me; I am privileged to be called to serve Him. If He is limited to what I believe about Him, He is very small indeed. At the time of Pinchas, Balak and Bilaam, their gods were local but the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the only true universal God. There is no other beside Him yesterday, today and forever!