Blog Pinchas Tammuz 24 5779 בלוג פִּינְחָס, כ”ד תמוז תשע”ט

At the beginning of this parashah, which was named after him, Pinchas took his spear and pierced through Zimri and Kozbi to deflect the anger of the Creator against the people of Israel for their behavior. He did what the judges were told to do but had failed. For this, Pinchas was awarded a title – the “Brit Shalom” שָׁלוֹם בְּרִית, the Covenant of Peace, bestowing upon him and all his descendants the Covenant of an Everlasting Priesthood, “Brit Kehunat Olam” בְּרִית כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם. “What did Pinchas do to receive such a high honor from the Bore Olam?”. The Hebrew word “shalom” has far more implications than “peace” as we know it; it is difficult for us to even imagine the state in which nothing from outside can ever bother us – sublime tranquility, without any struggles. We have never experienced that in the history of the world. Pinchas did not only stop the physical destruction of Israel; he halted the spiritual destruction of our people. The Torah goes beyond the physical. Hebrew thought is holistic and does not separate the body, mind, and spirit as in Western thinking. As we age, we sense that our “insides” do not age as the outside covering, our body, does. We have His Ruach, His spirit within, which is eternal and this Brit Shalom pointed to the idea that this quality of shalom would remain after our life here on earth. Life does not end when the physical body dies. Twenty-four thousand people had died in that plague, but the true destruction was that the soul of Israel was being destroyed by their actions.

Bamidbar (Numbers) 25:16 continues with the LORD telling Moses to strike down the Midianites for conspiring against Israel to destroy them due to Cozbi and Zimri. This had already happened, demonstrating that the Torah is not chronological, but it is reiterated to emphasize that Israel cannot be destroyed by any outside power; it can only be destroyed from within. The Creator has infinite patience with us, constantly telling us to return to Him, to do Teshuva. We are not far from the High Holidays and He is always calling out to us to remember that it is important for us to get our priorities straight. Some men have done wonderful things on this earth, yet their lives have been taken away too soon. Those who remain have a great responsibility which is why immediately after the plague Moses is told to take a census. Those of us who remain count! When we are warned not to do something and we suffer for doing it, do we blame someone else or do we take responsibility for our actions? Pinchas did exactly what the judges failed to do perhaps because they were afraid to stand up against the “crème de la crème. It was not politically correct, yet this young man stood up and did what the others would not dare to do, thus stopping the plague.

Pinchas cared more about what the Creator would say than anyone else. Many of us prefer to live by appearance, where it is more important what others say about us than who we are. When I see young people following the crowd rather than having their own identity, it saddens me. Psalm 139 tells us that we are each made in a unique way. Pinchas didn’t follow the crowd. Being ourselves comes at a cost. The story of the ostrich is interesting. He can easily outrun a lion but instead, he puts his head in a hole in the sand thinking that the lion cannot see him. How many of us are like the ostrich where we prefer to look away instead of taking responsibility and do what is right? Today we cannot be like Pinchas and pierce people through with a sword, but our words are mightier than the sword. The Torah teaches us to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves even if there is a cost for standing up for what is right. Today the world is suffering various plagues due to immorality and indecency all over the world. Sadly, most of us imitate and accept the rule of the majority because we don’t want to be considered the odd man out. The Creator is calling us to be like Pinchas, to bring true Shalom, and to curb the destruction of the soul of this world. This is not an easy message; it could be misunderstood by thinking that the only way to curtail it is by force. We have the right to speak out and not accept what the majority is pushing down our throats. Our sages say that the name Pinchas comes from two words, Peh פה and Nachash נחש meaning the mouth of the serpent. Pinchas calls out to us asking, “Are we for or against the Creator”? There is no middle ground. This is not about being a religious fanatic but about being a tzaddik, a righteous person.