Burning With Jealousy
What were we thinking? I mean, we'd made it through the bulk of our desert journey from Egypt, we witnessed the spectacular sound and light show of Mount Sinai, accepted the invaluable gift of the Ten Commandments, built the Mishkan (Winnebago Temple), found sustenance in a white flaky treat called manna, surrounded by clouds of glory and a pillar of fire, experienced the victory of battle against sworn enemies, and all-in-all, understood that we had an important mission on this planet.
So why was it so easy for us (of the male persuasion) to be seduced by the Midianite women into steamy and illicit sexual acts, which included many bizarre performances, not the least of which included the cult-like ritual of defecating in front of the Midianite god-idol Ba'al Peor? (Talmud Sanhedrin 60.) I mean, really!
Enter Pinchas, grandson of Aaron the Chief Cohen, and seeing the hysteria, grabs a spear and thrusts it through an Israelite prince and Midianite princess as they publicly fornicate. His target is quite poetic - straight through both groins, killing the lustful (and hardly discreet) couple in front of the gawking nation. Pretty steamy, eh?
Pinchas and his shish-kebab technique put an end to a plague that was rapidly destroying our great-great-great... grandparents, and for this he is rewarded with hereditary Cohen status. The reason: jealousy! That's right, the very attribute I try so hard to eliminate in my life is exactly the basis for Pinchas' prize!
"And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Pinchas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the children of Israel in that he was very jealous for My sake." Number 25:11
(Rashi was a French Jew living about a thousand years ago, who shed tremendous light on sacred text through his commentaries)
1) Rashi wrote, "Jealousy, in Hebrew kinah, always denotes one who strives to take vengeance for the sake of something." For Pinchas, what was that "something?"
1) Under what circumstances is killing justified? Self-defense? National security? (The plague connected to the Midianite orgy-fest had already killed 24,000 people when Pinchas stepped in.) Under no circumstances?
2) Are there important differences between Pinchas and any lone zealot who takes matters into his own hands, when faced with immorality?
3) When is jealousy an attribute to be used positively in a relationship?
Pinchas is regarded as a hero in the Torah. According to midrash, his neshama (spirit) returns much later into the body of Elijah the Prophet (Eliyahu HaNavi), a man associated with strong actions and a non-conformist. If jealousy is a motivating factor for Pinchas, then as a holy nation, hanging out with temptresses can be extremely dangerous!
Prepared by Rabbi Shmuel Bowman, Former Director, The Ellin Mitchell Hillel Program at Tel Aviv University.
Additional commentaries and text studies on Pinchas at MyJewishLearning.com.