Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parasha # 41: Pinchas (Pinchas) B’midbar (Numbers)25:10-30:1
Haftarah: M’lakhim Alef (1 Kings) 18:46-19:21
B’rit Chadashah: 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; 16:8
This week we read of Pinchas who committed a violent act slaying both Zimri, the Prince of Shimon, and Kozbi a Princess of the Midianites. This narrative is a continuation of the last paragraph from our last parashah. Recall that Bil’am advised Balak to entice the Jews to sin by mixing and mingling with Midianites. His story makes it very clear that there are times when anger is proper and justified. This truth is supported by the fact that Pinchas was rewarded with YHVH’s “Covenant of Peace”? This would seem to fly in the face of the sixth commandment that Thou shall not murder. But this narrative provides another example of the need to explore more than the literal word in G-d’s Torah to fully understand what is being taught. The question then, should be 1. Why am I angry? 2. Is there a violation of G-d’s Torah at stake in the particular situation? 3. Whose biblical rights are being violated, mine or someone else’s? Sometimes it is more prudent to restrain anger and its expression, but if the truth is on the line, anger is often justified. Recall that Yahshua provides guidance on this issue. Turning the other cheek addresses not allowing someone’s attack on our individual character to provoke us to anger. We read of Yahshua’s restraint many times in His Torah. But we also read of His righteous anger, especially dealing with the Pharisees and Sadducees. Another classic example describes the corrupt trade that was going on outside the Temple in the selling of second-rate animals that were not acceptable for sacrifices. We can almost feel the anger as Yahshua turned over the tables of the money changers(Matt. 21:13; Luke 19:46. The people were being taken advantage of, cheated through unfair exchange rates, and being compelled to purchase “temple-approved: animals for their sacrifices under the guise of their own animals being unworthy. By examining this and other narratives, it is easier for us to understand why Pinchas was blessed by G-d with the Covenant of peace.
Jewish names describe the essence of the subject named. “Pinchas” translates as history. He was the grandson of Aaron whose line was granted the priesthood forever by G-d (Num. 25:12-13). Could it be that Pinchas was making history or that his action provided a historical continuation of the redeeming line leading to Yahshua? After all, Aaron’s action atoning for the sin of the Israelites described in the parashah three weeks ago symbolized the atonement provided by Yahshua. In this parashah, Aaron’s grandson performs an act that atoned for the people more brazen than that of his grandfather. Recall that Moshe ordered Aaron to run into the middle of those being killed by the plague. In the case of Pinchas, he took the risk upon himself in defense of G-d’s righteousness and single-handedly ran a spear through Zimri. Zimri means to sing, praise, or make music. Zimri was from Simeon known for musical abilities. Kozbi translates as lie.
There was a plague in progress during this episode just as during the episode with Aaron. This time G-d was punishing the people for whoring with the women of Moav (Num. 25:1). The Moabites were descendants of one of Lot’s daughters as the result of sexual union with Lot. The Moabites were polytheists but worshipped Chemosh as the main G-d. Chemosh was in general a deity of the same nature as Baal. On critical occasions a human sacrifice was considered necessary to secure his favor (compare II Kings 3: 27), and when deliverance came, a sanctuary might be built to him (Moabite Stone, line 3). An ancient poem, twice quoted in the Old Testament (Num. 21: 27-30; Jer. 48: 45, 46), regards the Moabites as the children of Chemosh, and also calls them “the people of Chemosh Israelites took part in child sacrifice and Solomon committed idolatry with the G-ds of the Moabites Solomon is said to have built a sanctuary to Chemosh on the Mount of Olives (I Kings 11: 7, 33), which was maintained till the reform of Josiah (II Kings 23: 13). This movement by Solomon was no doubt to some extent a political one, but it made the worship of Chemosh a part of the religious life of Israel for nearly 400 years. However, according to II Kings 11: 7, evidence is given that Chemosh and Moloch were two different G-ds or perhaps two manifestations of the same G-d, at least to the peoples who worshiped them. Solomon had “high places” built for both G-ds at the same time and in the same location, “on the mountain which is East of Jerusalem.” Both Chemosh and Molech may have had the same origins but if so, by Solomon’s time they had been denominated into differing objects for different peoples, Chemosh for the Moabites and Moloch for the Ammonites. This would make sense as each would represent each of Lot’s sons. When will we ever learn?
Next we must understand what it means to be a Kohen or Priest. Similarly, we should all understand that true believers are Priests according to 1 Peter 2: 9 “But ye are a chosen generation (nation), a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” And lastly we should ask ourselves what is the function and nature of a priest?
Aaron was chosen as the first Kohen because he “loved and pursued peace” according to the Pirkay Avot 1:12 (Sayings of the Fathers). He devoted his life to the ideal of peace, never considering it beneath his dignity to foster love and understanding. He pursued peace between man and man, and in his role as the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) he continued his role in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) between man and YHVH. Aaron came to symbolize the ideal Kohen, the man of YHVH Elohim who strives for the welfare of others with no thought for personal gain. This example typifies Yahshua, who as the perfect High Priest was obedient unto death so that we might be saved.
As previously mentioned, Pinchas put his own life at risk when he rushed into Zimri’s tent because there was a plague ravaging the nation. YHVH commends Pinchas for atoning for the Israelites. Pinchas acted to bring about peace between man and YHVH just like a Kohen Gadol who serves in the Mishkan. His desire to create shalom between man and YHVH showed he was worthy of the enormous responsibility of fostering peace and understanding within the nation.
Aaron’s overriding quality was his selfless desire to create shalom between man and man. YHVH on the other hand selected Pinchas for preserving the connection between YHVH and man. Both of these qualities demonstrate a love of the people. Because of this YHVH gave to Pinchas “his pledge of peace” and appointed Pinchas and all his descendants as Kohanim in Israel. Can we who are termed a ‘nation of Priests, fail to exhibit the same kind of love toward YHVH and every other believer? Is the plague of rebellion against G-d’s Torah any less deadly than a physical plague? I submit that the latter poses a greater threat as it pervades the soul well below skin level. May we like Pinchas, love G-d so completely that defending His Torah becomes “instinctive.”
Haftarah: M’lakhim Alef (1 Kings) 18:46-19:21
In this Parasha Pinchas is acknowledged as the first zealot of Yisra’el. In the haftarah we see that this quality still exists within B’nai Yisra’el and is one of the characteristics of a great prophet. As Eliyahu (Elijah) says in 1 Kings19:10, 14: “I have indeed been very zealous for YHVH Elohim.” There is a difference between being zealous and being reckless. “Zealous” is an adjective meaning
full of, characterized by, or due to zeal; ardently active, devoted, or diligent.
Medieval Latin zēlōsus. Note the word “diligent” and “devoted.” Zealous does not imply impulsiveness. The prophet Elijah is the main protagonist of this week’s haftarah. According to tradition, Elijah shared the same soul as Pinchas, the hero of this week’s Torah portion. They also both zealously fought on G d’s behalf, while disregarding the dangers involved.
Following the showdown with the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel which led to the execution of the Baal priests, the evil Queen Jezebel issued a death sentence for Elijah. Elijah fled to the Judean desert and asked G d to take his life. While he slept, an angel awoke him and provided him with food and drink. Reenergized, Elijah went for forty days until he arrived at Mount Horeb (Sinai), and he slept in a cave on the mountain. And the word of G d came to him and asked him for the purpose of his visit. “And [Elijah] said: ‘I have been zealous for G-d, the Lord of Hosts, for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant. They have torn down Your altars and they have killed Your prophets by the sword, and I have remained alone, and they seek my life to take it.”
Elijah was instructed to leave the cave and stand on the mountain: “Behold! G-d’s Presence will pass.” There was a great and strong wind splitting mountains and shattering boulders, but Elijah realized that G-d was not in the wind. Then came an earthquake followed by fire, but again Elijah understood that not in the earthquake nor the fire was G-d. After the fire there was a subtle silent voice, and Elijah realized that the Divine Presence had appeared.
G-d asked Elijah again for the purpose of his visit, and Elijah repeated his earlier response. G d instructed Elijah to go to Damascus and anoint Hazael as king of Aram and Jehu as king of Israel and to anoint Elisha as a prophet in his stead. These three would continue Elijah’s battle against the Baal.
Elijah followed the instructions and he immediately found Elisha and recruited him as his aide and eventual successor.
There can be no doubt that Pinchas and Elijah were religious heroes. They stepped into the breach at a time when the nation was facing religious and moral crisis and palpable Divine anger. They acted while everyone else, at best, watched. They risked their lives by so doing. There can be little doubt that the mob might have turned against them and attacked them. Indeed after the trial at Mount Carmel, Jezebel lets it be known that she intends to have Elijah killed. Both men acted for the sake of G-d and the religious welfare of the nation. And G-d himself is called “zealous” many times in the Torah.
Yet their treatment in both the written and oral Torah is deeply ambivalent. G-d gives Pinchas “my covenant of peace,” meaning that he will never again have to act the part of a zealot. Indeed, in Judaism, the shedding of human blood is incompatible with service at the Sanctuary (King David was forbidden to build the Temple for this reason: see I Chronicles 22:8, 28:3). As for Elijah, he was implicitly rebuked by G-d in one of the great scenes of the Bible. Standing at Horeb, G-d shows him a whirlwind, an earthquake and a fire, but G-d is not in any of these. Then He comes to Elijah in a “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19). He then asks Elijah, for the second time, “What are you doing here?” and Elijah replies using the same words as before: “I have been very zealous for the LORD G-d Almighty.” He has not understood that G-d has been trying to tell him that He is not to be found in violent confrontation, but in gentleness and the word softly spoken. G-d then tells him to appoint Elisha as his successor.
More profoundly, the zealot is in effect taking the place of G-d. As Rashi says, commenting on the phrase, “Pinchas … has turned My anger away from the Israelites by being zealous with My zeal ,” Pinchas “executed My vengeance and showed the anger I should have shown” (Rashi to Num. 25:11). In general, we are commanded to “walk in G-d’s ways” and imitate His attributes. “Just as He is merciful and compassionate, so you be merciful and compassionate.” That is not, however, the case when it comes to executing punishment or vengeance. G-d who knows all may execute sentence without a trial; but being mere humans, may not. There are forms of justice that are G-d’s domain, not ours.
The zealot who takes the law into his own hands is embarking on a course of action fraught with moral danger. Only the most holy may do so, only once in a lifetime, and only in the most dire circumstance when the nation is at risk, when there is nothing else to be done, and no one else to do it. Even then, were the zealot to ask permission from a court, it would be denied.
Pinchas gave his name to the parashah in which Moses asks G-d to appoint a successor. R. Menahem Mendel, the Rebbe of Kotzk, asked why Pinchas, hero of the hour, was not appointed instead of Joshua. His answer was that a zealot cannot be a leader. That requires patience, forbearance and respect for due process. The zealots within besieged Jerusalem in the last days of the Second Temple played a significant part in the city’s destruction. They were more intent on fighting one another than the Romans outside the city walls.
Nothing in the religious life is more risk-laden than zeal, and nothing more compelling than the truth G-d taught Elijah, that G-d is not to be found in the use of force but in the still, small voice that turns the sinner from sin. As for vengeance, that belongs to G-d alone.
B’rit Chadashah: 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; 16:8
This scripture reiterates that we are not to boast; we are a new “lump” and must work at keeping ourselves unleavened in the eyes of G-d, always striving to live in purity and truth. This is a lifelong race. Running a race implies that we are to always look forward and never back. Keep to the “King’s Highway” and veer neither to the right nor left just as we are admonished in G-d’s Torah (Deut. 5:32; Isaiah 7:3; Joshua 1). Although the Edomites who will be destroyed in the future would not let the Israelites pass in the first scripture we read about this metaphor for G-d’s Torah and the race to win the prize (Numbers 20:17-21), we also read about the Israelites’ perseverance as they simply took the long way around on their travels to Mount Hor. Similarly, we must not grow weary but continue (Joshua 1:7-9) until our race is won.
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart