Drash Cards for Pinchas (5777)
by Marc Mangel
- Hard not to talk about zeal today, given that we read the first part of the triennial cycle.
- First, Biblical zeal.
- God – who is directly interacting with the people — says that the action of Pinchas has stopped the destruction of the children of Israel and gives Pinchas a covenant of peace and eternal priesthood for Pinchas and his offspring.
- Rashi interprets that God gives Pinchas a pact of friendship, guaranteeing divine protection.
- The commentators are mixed. For example, in BT Sanhendrin (82a) the Rabbis say that had Pinchas asked the rabbinical court if it was permitted to kill Zimri and Cozbi, citing halacha to justify it, the court would have told him “The law may permit it but we do not follow that law”
- Moshe of Coucy notes that although the previous parsha ends with Pinchas’s deed, his reward is not proclaimed until the beginning of this one – and that this teaches us never to rush to reward extremism. We are to wait until later events clarify whether the zealot’s intention was pure or not.
- In fact, the Torah itself comments on the Torah: in the scroll in v 11 the yod in Pinchas is smaller than the other letters – when we commit even justified violence the yod/Godliness in us is diminished.
- In v 12, the vav in shalom is written with a break in its stem. This tells us that the sort of peace one achieves by destroying one’s opponent will always be flawed, incomplete, and broken.
- On the other hand, the Chatam Sofer praises Pinchas for the same zeal and energy to do what is right that the Israelites displayed while doing wrong.
- Hirsch is also in support of Pinchas: “Anyone who wages war on the enemies of what is good and true is a champion of the Covenant of Peace on earth even while engaged in war”
- Other commentators understand God’s gift the priesthood not as a reward for the extremism but as an antidote to it.
- The Ktav Sofer writes “He will have to cure himself of his violent temper if he is to function as a cohen” and Hamek Dvar “the priesthood will protect Pinchas from the destructive impulse within him.” One is never the same after shedding blood, no matter how noble the cause.
- What does this mean for us today, when God is removed from direct interaction in the world. I have two examples of modern zeal.
- I have told you about Zalman Heber, the Chabad Rabbi who came to Tacoma in 2003 and within less than a decade had built a Chabad House modeled on Chabad Lubavitch Headquarters in Brooklyn.
- The Tacoma Chabad house has stained glass windows that can be seen from either side in the sanctuary corresponding to the Rebbe’s mitzvah campaign. One of those mitzvahs is that of Tahara – family purity.
- When I visited Zalman last month, he took me to the house next door, which he had just purchased (waiting a decade for the owner to decide to sell) and is planning to make into a home for the pre-school and a mikveh. He already had sketches of the remodel and the mikva marked out with masking tape on the floor of the garage.
- Zalman’s zeal was palpable. A mikva is for every Jew in the community, and he kept asking me if I knew if this person or that person from the Reform synagogue (the only other show in town, which is a conservative leaning Reform synagogue) with whom he had spoken about the mikveh. He talked about Shabbat, marriage, conversion, and the mikveh bringing all Jews together.
- He said something like “We should not rely on anti-semites to bring Jews together; instead of looking to what separates us, let us look to what unites us”.
- Now for example #2. From Ha’Aretz on 9 July 2017
Israel’s Chief Rabbinate has published a blacklist of 160 rabbis from around the world, including many Orthodox rabbis, whose rulings on the question of “who is a Jew?” it does not recognize…
Hours after it was published, Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau expressed shock and outrage that such a list had been published without his knowledge or authorization. “This was done without the consent or approval of the rabbi,” Lau’s chief assistant wrote on Sunday in a letter addressed to the director-general of the Chief Rabbinate’s office. “How can it be that such a list is published without updating the rabbi that it exists and that it is to be made public?”
“Firstly, it is inconceivable that an official in the Chief Rabbinate’s office will decide on his own initiative which rabbis are approved and which aren’t,” the letter said. “Secondly, it goes with saying that this has terrible implications and causes grave damage to certain rabbis, and especially to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.”
- To be sure, the individuals in the office of the Chief Rabbi are zealous, but they are also splintering the Jewish people with their zeal.
- Let me remind you of the following from BT Yoma 9b “Why was the Second Beit Hamikdash destroyed?”. Answer: “Because of sinat chinam, senseless hatred of one Jew for another.”
- In this month’s issue of Hadassah magazine, Noah Efron, in an article about Tis B’Av writes: “But as the rabbis of the Talmud knew, the greatest threat we face is our own tendency to create divisions and look at brothers and sisters as others”.
- So today, as we read and think about Pinchas, I suggest we follow the model of Rabbi Heber – to seek actions that will bring Jews together and be zealous about those activities.