2003Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth. (Proverbs 24:17)
A Less Than Perfect Shalom
Last week, as our parsha ended, we saw Pinchas, a zealous, God-loving Israelite, stab two people, Zimri and Cozbi, caught in an illicit relationship. Zimri was an Israelite male and Cozbi was a Moabite woman. Parshat Pinchas begins with the words of God. We wonder, how does the Torah respond to Pinchas' violent act?
10 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
11 "Pinchas, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the Israelites by displaying among them his passion for Me, so that I did not wipe out the Israelite people in My passion.
12 Say, therefore, 'I grant him My pact of peace.
13 It shall be for him and his descendants after him a pact of priesthood for all time, because he took impassioned action for his God, thus making expiation for the Israelites.'"
1. Why would God praise Pinchas for killing two people on the spur of the moment, without any trial or any previous warning?
2. Why does God grant Pinchas peace and offer him the priesthood?
3. Is passion for God good, even when it leads to violence?
The Torah Text
"In the text of the Torah scroll, the letter yod in Phinehas's name in the second verse (v.11) is written smaller than the other letters. When we commit violence, even if justifiable, the yod in us (standing for the name of God and for y'hudi, "Jew") is diminished thereby. In verse 12, the letter vav in shalom in the Torah scroll is written with a break in its stem. This is interpreted homiletically to suggest that the sort of peace one achieves by destroying one's opponent will inevitably be a flawed, incomplete peace."
~ Eitz Chayim Torah and Commentary, The Rabbinical Assembly
While at first glance it does seem that God praises Pinchas wholeheartedly for so zealously and passionately killing the lovers, Zimri and Cozbi, we can now see that God's praise of Pinchas is not so exuberant and whole. What brilliance the Torah teaches us! We see that, even in its praise for Pinchas, the letters of the text are damaged. It is as if Pinchas, himself, has been damaged for committing such a heinous crime. By committing the crime of murder, Pinchas had caused the yud in his name, the Godliness inside himself, to become diminished. And even more fascinating is that, even in God's blessing for Pinchas is a message. God grants Pinchas peace, yet even the peace is broken because of Pinchas' violence. Perhaps God's blessing of peace is not a guarantee of safety for Pinchas against his enemies, but instead as a fixing of the broken spirit of a person who could commit such a violent act. A person who commits murder as a result of his zeal for God must be protected against himself, for his inner peace is indeed broken. May we, like Pinchas, seek protection against our own zealous and violent tendencies. May our peace be an inner peace, which leads to a greater, worldly, shalom.
Prepared by Rabbi Andrea Steinberger, director, Hillel at the University of Wisconsin.
Additional commentaries and text studies on Pinchas at MyJewishLearning.com.