Pinchas (Num 25:10 - 30:1)  5768 (2008)



  1. When is one permitted, even rewarded, for taking the law into one's own hands - and act precipitously as judge, jury, executioner?
  2. When can an act of violence lead to peace rather than more violence?
End of Parashah Balak and beginning of Pinchas:  Moabites invite Israelites to share food/wine of sacrifices to idols; this enjoyment arouses sexual inclination [Theodore Reik: Sex begins at the dinner table.], that leads to idol worship by Israelites.  God brings a plague to punish idol-worshiping Israelites.  An Israelite man and Midianite woman of high rank engage in inter-coupling before Moses and the entire congregation, who are at a loss and weeping. 

Pinchas, grandson of Aaron the Kohen Gadol, rises up and in an early Freudian act spears the couple through their offending innards.  The plague is lifted.  God praises Pinchas for his zealousness for My sake, and says I grant him My covenant of peace, and eternal priesthood to his descendants.


1.         Justifications:

            Emergency circumstances - people growing in sin, plague.

            Pinchas slew not mere sinners, but those leading others to sin.

            Pinchas acted for the sake of Heaven and atoned for Israel; he did not act for himself, or out of hatred or anger.

            Midrash: Pinchas did consult with Moses before acting.

            Other justifications like blood avenger, recovering property, are laws made before the fact.

            Jerusalem Talmud: Sages in Pinchas' day disapproved his act.

            When can we permit precipitous action today? - Iran, N. Korea.

            Haftarah: zealous Elijah, wind, earthquake, fire, still small voice.


2.         The Covenant of Peace, as a reward for the violent act, can be:

            Freedom from vengeance from the families of those slain.  God's announcement is public, all hear it.

            Inner peace, no guilt or gnawing regret or moral ambivalence.

            Wholeness, Shalem.  Eternal priesthood as completeness.  A kohen who slays a person can no longer bless the people (Gemara).


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