From Where I Stand
By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
“Behold I give him My covenant of peace.”
Once upon a time, in the days of Moshe and the Jews in the Wilderness, the Moabite women were seducing young Jewish men. The Almighty was angered and sent a plague upon His people. Jews were dying left, right, and center. To compound matters, Zimri, a prince from the Tribe of Shimon, was himself consorting with a Midianite princess named Kozbi and flaunting their illicit relationship in the face of Moshe. Enter Pinchas, a young Jewish zealot, and in true zealot tradition, he kills both Zimri and Kozbi. Suddenly, the plague stops. No more Jews die. And G‑d declares Pinchas to be not a murderer but a hero, a defender of the faith, and bestows upon him the world’s first peace prize. “Behold I give him My covenant of peace.” He is appointed to the priesthood and, as befits a hero, gets a whole portion of the Bible named after him, this week’s parashah, Pinchas.
Now I have serious reservations as to whether Dale Carnegie would use Pinchas as a role model for “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” I would not quite suggest that we root out all sinners and put a spear through them. What was appropriate in ancient times is not necessarily appropriate today. The way to stop the internal hemorrhaging of our people through assimilation and intermarriage is clearly not the way of Pinchas.
The Jewish prince Zimri was rebellious with intent. He knew full well that what he was doing was wrong. It was a deliberate provocation on his part. Most people who turn their backs on Judaism today do so out of ignorance. They simply don’t know. Nobody taught them. It’s not their fault. We cannot condone it, but such people don’t need a whipping; they need a whetting of their spiritual appetite. They need an education, urgently. They need a lot of love and warmth and for people to reach out to them and share the beauty of a Shabbat or an inspirational shul experience. Show them their own Jewishness and how meaningful it truly is, and they will no longer want to give it up.
What, then, is the message of Pinchas for our time? Perhaps it might be that sometimes, even today in our supersensitive, tolerant society we do need to take a stand. There will be issues that demand that we put our foot down, that we insist, that we say “No!”
It might be different issues for different people. For some it may be Jerusalem; for others, Yom Kippur; and for still others, it might be insisting that their daughter’s boyfriend cannot sleep over. Somewhere, surely, there has got to be a bottom line.
Generally, diplomacy and positive encouragement work much better than fighting. We are not trying to train Jewish holy fundamentalists to go around killing infidels. But inevitably there will be occasions when even pacifists like us will need to adopt the zero-tolerance approach of Pinchas.
Sooner or later, we will be required to stand up and be counted. There will come a time when we, too, will have to say, “I’m sorry. I cannot accept this kind of behavior. This is wrong. Stop!”
Even in our OK Generation, not everything is OK. v
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at www.ktav.com.