Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–Pinchas

For the last several weeks, the Torah spoke of challenge after challenge to Moses’ authority. The greatest rebellion was Korach’s, and what we found was that no one, the rebel nor the authoritarian came out unscathed. Violence hurts everyone: it victimizes both the perpetrator and the tormented alike. The perpetrator falls victim to his own lack of faith and fear. It holds such a strong grip on his heart that he has no capacity for reason, compassion, respect, or love. The perpetrator is a “traitor” to his own best sanctity for one who lives by the sword most often dies by it, as well. Of course, the one who bears the attack falls victim to the inadequacies in faith of the perpetrator. Sometimes it remains unclear as to which party in a war plays which role … and at which time. In a righteous rebellion, the rebel feels that the last resort response to the overriding oppression under which he lives is to fight back. Is he right? Well, it depends a lot on one’s point of view, but in the end, General William Tecumseh Sherman was right, “War is hell.” It causes people to do unspeakable things to other people, and often without regret, for they somehow felt forced into action. Was George Washington a hero? Not if you are British. In the North, Americans get all excited over the righteousness of Abraham Lincoln. He is not so beloved in the South.

This week’s Torah portion picks up where last week’s ended. Pinchas (a Kohen) kills a Simeonite tribal chief who co-habited with a Midianite woman. He ran them both through with a spear. A new leader emerges amongst Israel: a man of action. He watched the unthinkable relationship happen, and he distributed justice swiftly, ending the ghastly affair! Imagine, an Israelite and a Midianite – BLASPHEMY!!!!!

But, wait; wasn’t Moses married to a Midianite? Tzipporah was the daughter of Yitro (Jethro) Sheik of Midian. Why was that ok, but Zimri’s marriage to Kozbi was not? What about this new leader, Pinchas? Well, God promised him a covenant of peace after this; promised that he would be the priestly leader. If you go back a couple of chapters, God already promised this to him. God put nothing new on the table. One commentator reads the text as if God is saying, “Pinchas, I will honor what I already promised, but nothing more.”

Of course, most of the sages see this text differently. Pinchas is the zealot for God! They, of course, do not deal with Moses’ marriage. They also ignore the next chapters of the text. After we finish the next census, God tells Moses that he will not enter the new land. He will remain outside of Israel. God does not say, “But don’t worry, Pinchas is in charge, all is good.” What does happen? Moses pleads with God to announce a “real” leader for the people. Again, God does not offer Pinchas as this choice. God instructs Moses to pass the mantle of leadership to Joshua. God instructs Moses to bring Joshua to Eleazar (not Pinchas), the High Priest, for authentication. Pinchas will eventually ascend to the role of priest, but he is one that leads people into war (Numbers 31:6), while Joshua leads the people into settling the “Promised Land.” There is no Biblical Book “Pinchas.” There are, though, volumes upon volumes of commentaries declaring his valor. Hero or villain?  It all depends on one’s perspective.

Of the many “take-aways” from this week’s portion, I must remember that people do have different perspectives. I can read a text and see all the problems in the text, focusing on the places that scream for a debate. Others will read the very same text and see it’s storyline in a very different light.

Read the news every day. As we stand toe to toe screaming at each other, proclaiming each other’s abject ignorance and diabolical collusion with “The Dark Side,” we need to remember that people on “the other side” are there because they see differing truths. Where people misquote facts or misrepresent history, we need to address the error, but hopefully not at the expense of the dignity of the one in error. All of our religions teach that violence happens when we ignore another’s dignity. The question of who started it, “Who is the victim and who the aggressor” ultimately does not matter when we have killed each other’s neighbor. Go look up the lyrics to the song, “One Tin Soldier” by a Canadian band “the Original Caste.” We seek the ultimate victory at the expense of each other’s head, even while the “Ultimate Victory” is only peace for all the earth. We need to listen to each other more, hold each other more compassionately and with more empathy. Shabbat shalom.