Parsha Pinchas 5770: The Magnitude and Completeness of Pinchas’ Zealousness

by Moshe Burt

We learned in Parsha Balak that Bila’am’s scheme to seduce Jewish men to avodah zora by way of immorality (co-habitation) resulted in a plague which killed 24,000 Jewish men until Pinchas’ act brought the plague to a halt. However, Bamidbar, Perek 25, posuk 4 and 5 read;

And Hashem, said to Moshe: Take all of the chiefs of the people, and hang them up unto the Hashem in the face of the sun, that (there) may turn away the fierce anger of Hashem from Israel. And Moshe said unto the judges of Israel: Slay you every one his men that have joined themselves unto the Ba’al Peor.

Rabbi Chaim Zev Malinowitz spoke out what was, for this author, a Chidush which shed more light than previously on the significance and magnitude of Pinchas’ act of slaying Zimri and Kosbi as they co-habited.

Rabbi Malinowitz asked how it could be that the B’nai Yisrael, through 200 plus years in Mitzriyim and throughout their wandering in Bamidbar until now, maintained a derech which precluded illicit co-habitation. How could the Am have gone so fundamentally wrong on the eve of entry into Eretz Yisrael? He brought a Medrash Rabbah indicating that Hashem brought a stream of water from Sodom to Shittim where the B’nai Yisrael were encamped and suggested that the ingesting the water apparently brought about a test of B’nai Yisrael which many failed.

Rabbi Malinowitz cites Rashi on Perek 25, posuk 4 and 5, particularly posuk 5:

Rashi on posuk 4:

Take all of the chiefs of the people — that they shall judge the worshippers of Peor

And hang them up — the worshippers…

Rashi on posuk 5:

Slay you everyone his men — Everyone of the judges of Israel killed 2 (offenders);

and the judges of Israel (numbered eighty-eight thousand, as it is stated in Sanhedrin (folio 38).

If we do the math, if 88,000 judges each hung and killed 2 sinners, that’s 176,000 of the Am Yisrael who died by hanging. Now add to that the 24,000 who died in the plague and we see that the Chet of the Ba’al Peor took the lives of 1/3 of B’nai Yisrael before Pinchas’ impailment of Zimri and Kosbi as they co-habited brought an end to the death.

Rabbi Malinowitz also added, citing sections of Tanach, that, for example, Yehoshua noted decades after the Jews entered Eretz Yisrael that the B’nai Ysrael are still suffering for the sin of the Ba’al Peor and that full tikkun for the chet will only come in times of Moshiach. He indicates that Hashem did an abundant favor for B’nai Yisrael in permitting them to enter Eretz Yisrael in wake of the chait.

This author reasons further that, just as only 20% of B’nai Yisrael were up to the test of taking the Korban Pesach, slaughtering it and applying the da’am to their doorposts, so too 1/3 of the new generation in Bamidbar failed a crucial test just before entry into Eretz Ysrael.

Are we, of our generation where indifference, self-centeredness, short attention spans, callousness, insensitivity and disdain seem to dominate, any more righteous than the 1/3rd of the new generation of Bamidbar who died for the illicit nature of the avodah zora Ba’al Pe’or? Or of a later generation where the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva died because they showed each other insufficient respect?

What about today? Countless situations exist even as this vort is being written, which beg the above question, including the ongoing Jonathan Pollard story and it’s current turn — where Israel’s US Ambassador Oren recently revisited, before an American audience, the decades-old myth of Pollard as a rogue agent. But allow this author to venture at least one local instance.

There is an individual facing possible extradition to the United States on charges of being one of numerous alleged co-conspirators in a tax fraud case valued in tens of millions of dollars. This person was an oleh chadash who came to Israel leaving a large debt in the US. Soon after, the financial institution began harassing his aged parent.

Being new in Israel and not knowing who to contact for legal counsel, this person surfed around on various anglo yahoo sites in Israel looking for American counsel in Israel who could facilitate putting a stop to harassment of the parent. Legal counsel was found capable of squashing the harassment. The lawyer subsequently taught his client how to negotiate terms with the financial institution.

Subsequently, when the client was leaving Israel to visit the elderly parent, the attorney was said to have offered a means of making some money. Naively, the individual accepted the lawyer’s explanation of the legality of the “money-making idea” failing to take due diligence in checking out the background of the lawyer. The result of the failure to accomplish due-diligence is that now this person faces possible extradition and prosecution in the US due to having been duped and scammed as to the legality of the venture by a lawyer who passed himself off as a G’d-Fearing religious Jew. This illicit, fraudulent legal counsel has himself long since been extradicted, but the Obama Justice Department seems far from satisfied.

How does a Jew defraud another Jew while passing himself off as religious? And what have national or local religious leadership done to facilitate standards as to how one Jew treats another bein adom l’chaveiro regarding the above-cited case, or regarding local racketeering, corruption, fraud, forgery, domestic contentiousness and abuse?

To return to the discussion of last week’s Parsha Balak, even though perhaps falling short of the magnitude of Zimri’s aveirah with Kosbi, at what point is the extent of one’s sin outside of the pale? At what point is this sinner cheiv cheirem from the Kehal in this world and forfeits even the most fundamental merit in Olam Haba — in Shemayim — in the next world? At what point does such a sinner not even merit the neshama of a “toe-nail”?

That even some Jews, as well as leadership, could be capable of treating their fellow Jews with such deaf-ear, blind-eye, nonchalance, lip-service or worse seems every bit as contemptible as Zimri’s illicit co-habitation with Kosbi in the Camp by way of the avodah zora Ba’al Pe’or.

And yet we learn from Midrashim on Parsha Pinchas that there was much dispute in The Camp as to Pinchas’ action in slaying Zimri and Kosbi. There were those who wanted Pinchas killed for killing another Jew; quoted by Rabbi Artscroll (Stone Chumash page 876, Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 25, posuk 11):

“This grandson of someone who fattened calves to be sacrificed to idols” had the gall to kill a prince in Israel! [Pinchas’ father was married to a daughter of Yitro, a former Midianite Priest, who was called Putiel…]

So we return to our discussion from last week’s Parsha Balak concerning Zimri’s distorted model and “novel, misleading ideology”; his false, bogus proposition of “acting for the sake of Shemayim (Heaven).”

Shem Mishmuel (Shem Mishmuel, English by Rabbi Zvi Belovsky, pages 361-362) notes that while a “sin for the sake of Heaven” could theoretically have a place within Jewish life, it is unworkable if attempted in practice:

An action must be absolutely free of any self-interest or motive other than serving Hashem and realizing His aims. Without this condition, the act is a sin like any other.

Shem Mishmuel then cites a Chazal (Vayikra Rabbah 14:5):

It is impossible for even the exceptionally pious not to have sin as at least a fraction of their motive.

In short, it would seem that in order to have been able to act as Pinchas did, he would have had to be perfectly righteous, to be “absolutely free of any self-interest or motive other than serving Hashem and realizing His aims.”

Shem Mishmuel also notes that commentators render Pinchas as a gilgul of Kayin, but continues that Pinchas took Kayin’s aggressive, self-centered, jealous traits which resulted in his killing of Hevel, and elevated them to a level of acting only L’Shem Shemayim.

To repeat a quote from the Lubavitcher Rebbe as noted in last week’s Parsha HaShevua (Studies in the Weekly Parsha, by Yehuda Nachshoni, Parsha Balak, page 1113);

“He impailed the woman through the belly”; “He aimed his spear between their male and female members, proving that he did not kill them in vain.” Why would we think that he had killed them in vain? Rather, the Torah here alludes to the law that a zealot has free reign only while the act is in progress.

Thus Hashem conveyed the Kahuna, and eternal life upon upon Pinchas in vindication regarding the vicious, false accusations against him and in recognition of the justness and Kiddush Hashem of his action.

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard, captive Gilad Shalit and the other MIAs be liberated alive returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage to prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.