In an unprecedented act of sanctioned zealotry, we
read about Pinchas being commended for taking a
stand against a public atrocity and killing the perpetrators, consequently
saving thousands of lives. Pinchas is subsequently rewarded with the "covenant
of peace." (Numbers 25:10-13)
Pinchas is subsequently rewarded with the "covenant
What does this teach us about modern-day zealotry and
its dangers? Haven’t we learned our lessons over history of the grave
destruction perpetrated in the name of G‑d by religious extremists?
Item: Another slew of bombs explode in London.
Item: One more daily car bomb goes off in Iraq. (Are
there any cars left in Baghdad?)
Item: Israel is at the brink of civil war, as Jew
stands up against Jew, while the Arabs smile to themselves.
Item: A growing Muslim population is slowly changing
the shape of Europe and the world.
Item: Some of us grieve over the loss of loved ones.
Others are dancing at their children’s weddings. Most of us are sleeping quite
peacefully, immersed in our midsummer night dreams.
Cynics conveniently explain it all away using the wise
words of Solomon: "A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth
remains standing unchanged… That which has been is that which shall be; and that
which has been done is that which shall be done, and there is no new thing under
the sun". (Eccl. 1:4,9)
Yes, that sounds like a good way to maintain the
composure of our reverie. But one need not dig far beneath the surface to
recognize that we are sitting on a boiling pot.
Forces are simmering. A 1-billion plus Muslim
population is not complacently waiting for America to sell them Coca Cola and
Big Mac’s (even if they were halal meat). The Muslim world is driven by a
philosophy and a passionate belief system. Many of its ideas are quite noble and
therefore appealing. Beyond all the distortions and the violence, it is not
unfair to argue that the core of their belief system is the Divine message of
the Bible of sublimating and spiritualizing the material universe.
However, like all strong belief systems, that same
Muslim world is also a breeding ground for radicalism. At its extreme there is a
powerful movement – no one knows the numbers, but it encompasses many elite,
affluent Muslims – that advocates violence struggle against Western secularism.
They see Christian and Jewish influences as corrupt forces that need to be
vanquished....one mistake we should not make is that the
Muslim world is indifferent.
This is not to suggest that all Muslims feel this way.
But however you want to analyze it, one mistake we should not make is that the
Muslim world is indifferent. It has deep passionate beliefs that are not just
going away (and should not necessarily go away) because the Western world is
uncomfortable with them.
And this belief system is a hotbed of fermenting
radicalism, which is giving birth and continues to give birth to thousands (if
not more) of faithful individuals ready to sacrifice their lives in their Jihad
against a world (in their minds) opposed to G‑d.
No one wants to hear this fact because then our battle
is just too formidable of a task. How will a Western world, complacent with its
comforts, ever face the violent passion of thousands of religious zealots?
Therein lies the powerful message of Pinchas. The
Torah clearly and consistently abhors zealotry. When Abraham hears about the
impending destruction of the infidel city of Sodom – criminals by all accounts –
he doesn’t celebrate or join the attack, even though it was led by G‑d Himself.
Instead, He argues and implores G‑d to not destroy the city. The same with Moses
after the Jews built the Golden Calf, openly defying the commandment against
idolatry they had just heard and accepted at Sinai. Moses insists that G‑d
forgive them, and after 80 days he ultimately prevails, evoking the powerful
thirteen Divine attributes of compassion, thereby opening the door of
teshuvah to all souls – the ultimate power of the holiest day of the year,
The Torah is filled with the message of love and
compassion. Indeed, this is the entire undercurrent of Torah "Love you neighbor
as yourself – is the fundamental principle of Torah," said Rabbi Akiva. "This is
the entire Torah; the rest is commentary" (in Hillel’s words). Indeed, the Torah
warns of the dangers of being "more religious" that G‑d, acutely sensitive to
the fact that people can create "Torah sanctioned" outlets for their own
personal aggression. "Erase My Holy Name," G‑d declares, "to preserve
peace between husband and wife." Never, ever use religion as a weapon. No one
ever was commanded by G‑d to form a "lynch mob" and kill the infidels. When the
Egyptians were drowning in the sea for their obstinate crimes against mankind,
G‑d rebuked the angels for singing praise: "My creatures are drowning and you
Even though King David fought justifiable wars, he was
not allowed to build the Holy Temple because of the blood on his hands. His son,
Solomon, the man of peace, built the Temple. The Talmud tells us that a
Sanhedrin (Rabbinical Supreme Court) was labeled a "murderous" court if
under their tenure one verdict of capital punishment was issued even once in 70
years! Not because they are accused of being biased or corrupt, but to emphasize
how abhorrent death is, even when it may be justified.
The only exception of sanctioned zealotry is Pinchas.
Why would the Torah allow for the celebration of this one instance of zealous
behavior when it knows the risks of how it can be interpreted?
The answer lies in the opening verse of this week’s
chapter: G‑d says: "Pinchas, the son of Eliezer, the son of Aaron the Priest,
turned away My anger from the Children of Israel by zealously taking up My cause
and thus preventing me from destroying them."
The additional attribution to his grandfather Aaron
the Priest (and not the usual reference to "Pinchas son of…") is in order to
emphasize Pinchas’ personality. Aaron was man of love and peace. "The great
Hillel taught us, "Be of the students of Aaron, love peace and pursue peace.
Love all creatures [even if they have no other obvious quality except that they
are G‑d’s creatures] and bring them closer to Torah". (Avot 1:12)Had Pinchas had an aggressive personality...that would have boded trouble.
Had Pinchas had an aggressive personality, had he been
an advocate of religious radicalism, that would have boded trouble. Pinchas was
a man of peace, a quiet man. Even this act of zealotry was not to kill, but to
protect innocent people from being killed. When Pinchas saw that the people were
dying as a result of the public atrocity and desecration that Zimri perpetrated,
he went against his own quiet nature to defend G‑d and save lives. Selflessness,
not personal prejudices, was Pinchas driving force. The moment personal
interests and inclinations are involved, one ceases to be a zealot.
It was actually Zimri of the house of Shimon who was
the aggressive one, as was his grandfather Shimon who was rebuked by Jacob for
his violent and heated behavior.
Pinchas teaches us an invaluable and powerful message
The mistake we are facing today is in two extremes:
Either extreme religious radicalism, or its’ counterpart – extreme libertinism,
where everything goes. Indeed these two positions actually feed off of each
other, thus making them close cousins. Years of abuse in the name of religion
have created a backlash and knee-jerk reaction to anything that even "smells" of
religious bigotry or imposition. Even if this may be understandable, it still
doesn’t make it correct. Often, the reaction born out of an unhealthy situation
is equally unhealthy.
What may be even worse than fanatical moral relativism
(borne out of religious fanaticism) is passive apathy, or even radical apathy
(if that’s possible). As one fellow asked his friend: "What’s worse, ignorance
or apathy." His reply: "I don’t know and I don’t care."
A deep apathy – quite invisible – has arisen as a
result of all these battles of extremism on both sides. Some call it the "silent
majority," others the "ignorant masses" ‘("olam golam" in Yiddish), and
yet others the large number of people who live "lives of quiet desperation." You
can add into the mix the cynics that cite the abovementioned reference in
Ecclesiastes: "Nothing new under the sun." Thus it was and thus it will always
Comes Pinchas the man of peace and tells us that there
is another option: No extremes, no bringing in your own personal prejudices and
feelings of aggression or passivity, violence or comfort zones. Pinchas teaches
us simple selflessness to protect and defend innocent lives. Zealousness – but
G‑d forbid for anyone to use Pinchas as a model of
aggressive to hurt another person even in the name of religious beliefs.
Self-defense and protecting other lives is another story. If you are quiet when
you see other people being slaughtered, then you are not a man of peace; you are
What we learn from Pinchas is the exact opposite of
killing in the name of religious zealotry. Violence against other people,
especially innocent ones, can never be tolerated – no matter what its cause. Any
justification of violence, whether it is in the name of religion or in the name
of fighting for a cause, is unequivocally deplorable and goes against the laws
of G‑d. Anger and murder resulting from religious feelings is perhaps the most
dangerous of all, because the "holy war" helps mask the venting of personal
Some prominent writers have suggested that terrorism
in Israel can be justified because they are fighting there for a cause, but it
cannot be justified in London. It is laughable if it weren’t so tragic to
suggest that terrorism is acceptable in one region but not in another. Imagine
someone arguing that he can "understand" Nazi atrocity against Jews but not
against Americans… If violent terrorism is "acceptable" (or more pc:
"reprehensible but understandable") in Jerusalem, than it becomes "acceptable" –
and just a short step away – from violence in London, Paris, Moscow, New York
and Beijing.The Nazi terror made it abundantly clear that
injustice in one place is injustice everywhere.
The Nazi terror made it abundantly clear that
injustice in one place is injustice everywhere. Hatred to one race is hatred to
all. And the biggest revelation of all: Indifference to violence and brutality
against one group of humans is indifference to brutality against all
humans. We are in this together – for bad and for good. Churchill put it best:
"Appeasement in time of aggression is feeding the crocodiles in the hope that
you will be eaten last."
On the other hand, Pinchas teaches us, just because
religion has been abused and used to perpetrate atrocities we shouldn’t fall to
the other extreme of not fighting for any values. We must never lose sight of
right and wrong, but at the same time we must learn from the past how to fight
for it with selfless passion, not with violence.
We face today a major confrontation between religious
and secular forces. In the Middle East and spreading through Asia, Africa and
Europe, this battle is only accelerating. September 11th, 2001 was a
reminder to America of the festering forces at work.
On a subtler scale similar tensions are brewing in the
United States. Whether it be around evolution and creationism or the right to
live and die, abortion or the display of the Ten Commandments, the long history
of the battle for dominance between religious and secular voices continues to
To borrow a phrase – a specter is haunting the world.
Not the specter of communism but of making our peace with G‑d.
Leaders rise in times like this. A new vision is
needed. Or is it a timeless vision that simply needs to be rediscovered?
What is needed today is passion – but guided by
humility. G‑d – but guided by love and compassion.
A specter is hanging over us – the specter of freedom.
The violence perpetrated around the world today offers us an unprecedented
opportunity to wake ourselves up from complacency and embrace a zealous battle
for justice and truth.
We need a zealot today. Not a murderous zealot but a
zealot of peace. A true Pinchas that will rise and defy conventional thinking.
Today we are called to join forces in a zealous and
passionate against all form of extremism and violence, including those
perpetrated in the name of religious zealotry. To counter the passion of
misguided souls ready to blow themselves up, we need to zealously defend and
promote the Divine principles of justice and peace – and all in the spirit of
unity and love fueled by selflessness.
Nations of the world, communities across the globe,
need to zealously unite with one powerful message: We will not tolerate or
accept any form of violence, not in Jerusalem and not in London. Religious
beliefs must be used not to fight wars, but to promote spiritual values, to
establish laws that respect basic human rights and allow for diversity.
We must demand of the Muslim world – and for that
matter of the Christian and Jewish world, as well as of all religions and creeds
– to embrace the principles established by Abraham, father of all nations, to
promote the deepest values of virtue and integrity, all with love and
inspiration. To fight the pagan forces of the universe, not with violence, but
with spreading light and warmth.
© Copyright MeaningfulLife.com 2005. Edited by KOL