Parshas Pinchas: Recognizing a Spiritual Threat

In the beginning of this week’s parsha, Parshas Pinchas, the drama from last week’s parsha (Balak) continues to unfold. 

Parshas Balak ended tragically, as the prince of the tribe of Shimon, Zimri, publicly lays with the princess of Midyan, Kozbi.  In an act of zealotry to defend the Holy Name of G-d, Pinchas, the grandson of Aharon, rises up and kills the pair in the moment of their act of sin.

וַיָּבֹא אַחַר אִישׁ-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-הַקֻּבָּה, וַיִּדְקֹר אֶת-שְׁנֵיהֶם–אֵת אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאֶת-הָאִשָּׁה אֶל-קֳבָתָהּ; וַתֵּעָצַר, הַמַּגֵּפָה, מֵעַל, בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, And He (Pinchas) went after the Israelite man into the tent, and pierced them both, the Israelite man and the woman into her stomach; and the plague was halted from upon the Children of Israel (Bamidbar 25:8). 

Parshas Pinchas begins with G-d rewarding Pinchas for his actions.  Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: Pinchas the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Kohen, turned back My wrath from upon the Children of Israel, when he zealously avenged My vengeance among them, so I did not consume the Children of Israel in my vengeance. לָכֵן, אֱמֹר:  הִנְנִי נֹתֵן לוֹ אֶת-בְּרִיתִי, שָׁלוֹם – Therefore, say: Behold!  I give him My covenant of peace… (Bamidbar 25:10-12).

Rashi teaches: את בריתי שלום. שֶׁתְּהֵא לוֹ לִבְרִית שָׁלוֹם, כְּאָדָם הַמַּחֲזִיק טוֹבָה וְחַנּוֹת לְמִי שֶׁעוֹשֶׂה עִמּוֹ טוֹבָה, אַף כָּאן פֵּרֵשׁ לוֹ הַקָּבָּ”ה שְׁלוֹמוֹתָיו – My covenant of peace: That it should be for him as a covenant of peace, like a person who attributes goodness and graciousness (i.e.: who feels thankful) to one who does him a favor.  So too, here, Hashem declared to him His feelings of peace and friendship

At face value, this reward of shalom, peace, seems difficult for us to understand.  Yes, Zimri was sinning and leading the tribe of Shimon into wanton sin, R”L.  Yes, his actions led to a deadly plague amongst the nation.  But still… Pinchas just took two lives… How and why is a covenant of peace an appropriate reward?

R’ Mordechai Kamenetzky writes, “In this portion, Pinchas is praised as a man who calmed the wrath of Hashem and is rewarded with both the kehunah (see 25:13) and the blessing of eternal peace.  But why is this zealot considered the ‘prince of peace’?  Didn’t he murder two people?  Shouldn’t he have been awarded a position of might?  Perhaps he should have been appointed a general or a police captain instead?

“Some years ago, a madman shot nineteen people on a Long Island Railroad train (the attack took place on Dec.7, 1993, when six people were killed).  Three heroic individuals managed to subdue the killer and stop the carnage.  They were lauded throughout the community.  Had one of them had a spear and killed the murderer, he would have been no less a hero – perhaps even a greater one.

“In this world,” writes R’ Kamenetzky, “we see only the physical realities of danger – and we believe that if danger is imminently approaching us, it must be stopped by all means possible, even force.  Yet, when there is a spiritual attack, we cower.  Often we say it’s none of our business – we can’t get involved.  Pinchas, however, saw the spiritual threat as clearly as the passengers on the 5:33 to Hicksville, Long Island saw the physical threat.  He saw spiritual missiles flying from the licentious act of Zimri, killing thousands by way of a plague.  Pinchas’ act stopped the plague, a swift answer from a holy Jew who could not bear to see a madman spiritually shooting his brothers and sisters.

“Pinchas had a very clear vision of love for Jews.  It was a vision of peace.  However, he saw Zimri’s action the same way the LIRR passengers saw bullets.  Pinchas saw spiritual bullets being sprayed at innocent bystanders.  And he reacted – not because of his hate for Zimri, but because of his desire to save Jewish spirituality and Jewish lives

“We are often blinded by the niceties of social etiquette that prevent us from standing up and saying a strong word in the face of sin.  Perhaps our reticence stems from the fact that we don’t recognize sin’s impact.  If we understood the ramifications as Pinchas did… we would do so not out of anger or frustration, but for the sake of love and peace.  Hashem saw that great talent in Pinchas and gave him the reward that was most fitting – the prize of peace” (Parsha Parables, Bamidbar, p.541-544).

Of course, in our day and age, and with our own individual weaknesses and the degree and extent of human fallibility that affects us all, none of us can take action as Pinchas did.  We can go so far as to say that none of us want to take action as Pinchas did!  To do so would be a grave sin, a terrible misdeed, a horrific act.

And yet, there is a lesson to be learned that we can all apply to our personal, familial and national lives. A physical threat and danger from our enemies is immediately perceived and recognized as a threat that must be stopped at all costs, may Hashem watch over us all.  However, a spiritual threat is often not recognized, and dismissed as benign.

R’ Dovid Holzer writes, “When the nations attack and oppose us openly we recognize their danger, and respond accordingly, as in the case of Amalek.  But when the nations seduce us with their civility and surface friendship – as in the case of Midyan – they can be just as destructive, or even more destructive, without us realizing and responding appropriately.  At that time, we need to remember and adhere to Chazal’s precautions regarding the umos ha’olam (nations of the world) to help us maintain the appropriate distance (and protect ourselves from a spiritual threat)” (The Rav Thinking Aloud on the Parsha, Bamidbar, p.210).

May the RS”O (Almighty) protect us from those who rise against us; for surely we know that בכל דר ודר עומדים עלינו לכלותינו – in each and every generation they arise to destroy us.  From physical threats to spiritual threats, our enemies come in all shades.  Let us be ever vigilant, to ensure that we protect our neshamos teharos (pure souls), just as much as we strive to protect our physical selves.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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