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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Pinchas – What Were You Thinking

Posted by rabbiart on June 29, 2010


As we know, last week’s parshah culminates in violence. The Israelites settle for awhile in Shittim and the trouble starts; harlotry and idolatry. HaShem gets angry, 24,000 are killed. Pinchas murders – or executes – (you decide) a Midianite woman (we find out in our Parsha she was Cozbi the daughter of Zur) and an Israelite man because they are ‘hooking up’ (as the young folk say) right in front of the Ohel Mo’ed.

As our parshah opens, Pinhas is awarded with the brit shalom for his deed, interpreted by HaShem as turning away HaShem’s anger at Israel by exercising an act of kinah (zeal, jealousy) which “avenges the name of HaShem”.  Not only Pinhas but also his descendants  are rewarded with the brit kehunat olam – the eternal covenant of priesthood.

(You can channel Cary Grant saying “Judy, Judy, Judy” here. Everything sounds better with a proper British accent.)

Pinhas, Pinhas, Pinhas.  What were you thinking?!? What are we to think?  Are we supposed to emulate Pinhas and kill anyone who we think is offending HaShem?  Uh… doesn’t this run afoul of a certain commandment about not murdering?  Is this the example you (we) want to set for our children?  Kill the infidel?  That doesn’t seem to be working so well in our time.

What are we, the reader, supposed to do with this passage?  It’s all well and good to go to the remez (hint or implied meaning), the drosh (story or the meaning we search out), or the sod, but what are we supposed to do with the pshat (plain meaning or narrative of the text)?  Pretend it didn’t happen?  Justify it with ‘that was then, this was now’?

Two easy, but ultimately unsatisfying traditional explanations are (1) the covenant of shalom is really just a granting of protection from the familial revenge that otherwise would occur; and (2) it’s a Torah way of saying Pinhas was troubled and injured by the realization of what he had done, so HaShem healed him with the brit shalom?

Feel better?  Not me.  And not really happy with the mandate in verses 17-18 to show hostility on an ongoing basis (check the Rashi) toward the Midianites because they plotted against us.  Or the Talmud’s attempt to sanitize this stance by saying that HaShem did not order the complete destruction of the Midianites because then Ruth could not have lived and joined the tribe.

Pinhas, Pinhas, Pinhas.  Questions, Questions, Questions.

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