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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Recognizing Challenges – Designing Responses

Posted by rabbiart on July 10, 2009

Our Parshah begins with HaShem declaring.

פִּינְחָס בֶּן-אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן-אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן, הֵשִׁיב אֶת-חֲמָתִי מֵעַל בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּקַנְאוֹ אֶת-קִנְאָתִי, בְּתוֹכָם; וְלֹא-כִלִּיתִי אֶת-בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּקִנְאָתִי.
לָכֵן, אֱמֹר: הִנְנִי נֹתֵן לוֹ אֶת-בְּרִיתִי, שָׁלוֹם

Pinchas ben Elazar, ben Aharon the priest, diverted My jealous anger away from the Israelites when I was violently furious with them in my jealous anger, so that I didn’t consume Israel with my jealous anger.” Therefore I grant him my covenant of shalom.

Someone is very angry!

As our Parshah opens HaShem is just turning away from an outpouring of divine anger fueled by jealousy. HaShem is angry that Israelite men have been prostituting themselves with Midianite women, and jealous (can we say that?) about Israel becoming intimate with Ba’al Pe’or.

Yet in the space of two verses, Torah moves from divine anger to divine peace – shalom – in its full and complete (get it 🙂 ) meaning.

We might ask, how can HaShem be angry at the people and the Midianites more than at Pinchas?  They committed idolatry; Pinchas killed people!

Perhaps it is as simple as If were to rank the Aseret HaDibrot in order of importance, then a lesser violation (Pinchas)  was committed to stop the ongoing commission of a greater violation (Cozbi & Zimri and all the other idolatrous fornicators).

From anger to peace – now there’s a sorely needed model and motto for our times. Although we may not want to read this story too closely, if that is where we are trying to go. Because, in just four more verses we are commanded to – צָרוֹר – trouble and bother the Midianites because of their complicity in the doings. Zur, the slain woman’s father, is now referred to as a prince of Midian rather than as   merely a head of household.

HaShem has moved the Midianites alongside Amalek in the top ten list of Israel’s enemies. Midian – according to Rashi – deliberately prostituted their daughters in order to lead Israel into worshipping Ba’al Pe’or.  Not just their daughters but even the daughters of royalty.

Skipping over the rabbinic explanations of the discrepancy between Moab and Midian, we are left with two questions:

  1. How does HaShem move from being consumed with anger to handing out covenants of peace on the one hand, and issuing hostile orders on the other?
  2. How might we learn from HaShem’s model individually and in our wide variety of collections, to make the same moves?

Peace is not handed out to the Midianites, but specifically to Pinchas and to a lesser extent the remainder of Israel, because the plague is stopped.  Add to this the census that follows, and we can assert that HaShem is no longer angry with Israel, even if a full forgiveness hasn’t been granted. (That would wait for Yom Kippur). But certainly the anger is abated, as the incident is over.

Why is Midian not forgiven as well?  Remember that the trouble starts with Moab, and then the text mentions Midian. But only the Midianites are to be harassed. Why? Because for them, according to some interpretations, the incident is not over. They continue attempting to seduce Israel into idol worship.

Therefore they must be צָרוֹר – which can be translated as “troubled” or “harassed”. This is the word at the root of Mitzayim (מצר”ם). So Israel in some way does to Midian what was done to Israel in Mitzrayim.

In our story, Israel faced a spiritual threat. In other parshiot, the threat is physical. There are a variety of reasons and causes for challenges to Israel’s well-being and even our very existence.  Hmmm. Just like Israel  (both the state and all of klal yisrael) today.  It is impossible to know – or certainly to agree – on appropriate responses.

About the best we can do is look at HaShem’s grant to Pinchas.  What is given?  בְּרִיתִי, שָׁלוֹם Pinchas does not receive only a “covenant of peace.” He receives, in the words of the KBH, “my convenant of peace.”  There is an element of relationship between the KBH and Pinchas. The connection, as it were, between Pinchas and HaShem is made stronger.

Our challenge is to remember to  measure our intentions and actions against this test; will they bring us closer to the KBH. Then we may be fortunate through our deeds to reduce anger and increase peace in the world.

Shabbat  Shalom


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