Parsha Thought – Pinchas

  • Numbers 25:10-30:1
  • 1 Kings 18:46-19:21
  • John 2:13-25

When is enough actually enough for us? How many times do we see injustice occurring and think to ourselves, “I wish someone would do something about that”? We begin this week by reading about Elohim’s reaction to the zeal that Pinchas displayed in the previous Parsha. Let’s to go back to the end of last week’s Torah portion to refresh our memory.

“And when Pinchas, son of El‛azar, son of Aharon the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation and took a spear in his hand, and he went after the man of Yisra’ěl into the tent and thrust both of them through, the man of Yisra’ěl, and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague among the children of Yisra’ěl came to a stop.”

Numbers 25:7-8, The Scriptures

This is a very drastic measure for sure. Why does this young man take it upon himself to, seemingly without question and without direction from Moses or Aaron, hop to his feet and do what he did? Couldn’t these people be reasoned with first?

In no way am I advocating that we should grab our spear and skewer the nearest sinner, but I think for relevance in today’s society, this instance paints a very clear picture for us to consider. Zimri, the man who was killed was so overcome with lust and disregard for morality that he actually had the courage (audacity perhaps?) to commit a lewd act in front of everyone near the entrance to the Tent of Appointment. Not only was it in view of the entire nation, but also in the sight of Moses. Things were past the point of sensibility and reason. This man was the head of one of the houses of Shim’on. Moses could only watch the nation succumb to the depravity of their pleasures. He was so overcome with despair and grief, he could do nothing but weep. It is often said that as the leadership goes, so does the people. Cue the hero of this story. What will it take for us to stand up for what’s right and defend a righteous cause? Maybe we should first ask what a righteous cause is. That’s where this new Parsha begins.

“Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy.”
Numbers 25:11, NASB

Other translations might say “when he zealously avenged my vengeance among them” or “while he was zealous for my sake among them” but the point is made clear. Pinchas did not do this because of his own motives, he did what was necessary to stop the plague from taking more lives. Rashi explains it to say “when he displayed the anger that I should have displayed.” Another thing that we might miss is that the scriptures indicate that he acted zealously among them and not against them. When someone takes it upon themselves to do such a thing, it would be easy to adopt the us against the world mindset. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here. It’s as if Pinchas knows that this is for the good of the nation, even if it seems to be an extreme reaction. Despite the response, there is a love for his people as he still chooses to identify with them

It also seems to be odd that Zimri comes from the tribe of Shim’on whom Abraham spoke harshly against in Genesis 49:5 for the violence they exhibited against Schechem. This is worth revisiting to further drive home the point being made here.

“Shim‛on and Levi are brothers, their weapons are implements of violence. Let my being not enter their council, let my esteem not be united to their assembly; because they killed a man in their displeasure, and they lamed an ox in pleasure. Cursed be their displeasure for it is fierce, and their wrath for it is cruel! I divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.”

Genesis 49:5-7, The Scriptures

How is Pinchas any different that Shim’on who rescued his sister, Dinah? Shim’on and Levi went beyond what was necessary to save her and found enjoyment in what they were doing. The cited verse even alludes to the fact that their rage extended to the cattle, who had no part in the plot. Instead of doing what was required, they did what they desired. Could it be that their actions weren’t done with the same motivating factor as Pinchas? When Pinchas picked up his spear, he was sending a message that was loud and clear. Without words, he said, “I don’t want to do this, but lives are at stake. Our relationship with our King is in jeopardy. Whatever happens as a result of my inaction will be on my hands.” 

Fast forward to today: When we take a bold stance on an issue, are we doing it to defend Elohim’s honor or our own honor?  Jonathan has used the phrase “this is not a hill that I’m willing to die upon” to mean, “I have my own thoughts, but I won’t argue for my own sake.” In today’s world immorality is everywhere and it runs rampant before our eyes. Are we out using our tongue as implements of violence, striking out at those who we deem worthy of a tongue lashing? Or are we pinpointing the problem and trying to put a stop to it?  Are we precise in our actions and accepting of the consequences or are we willing to accept the inevitable casualties of war?

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