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Parsha Pinchas

07/25/2019 09:27:17 PM


The events of Parshas Pinchas are the culmination of the experiences that the Jews had in their forty year journey through the desert together with their leader Moshe.  Pinchas’s zealous act of striking a Jewish leader together with a Midanite woman spurred a command from God that the Jews should act with hostility towards the Midaanites and kill them.  The Parshas also contains one last national census of the nation, as well as Moshe passing his crown of leadership to the next leader, Yehoshua.  What is the theme of these last events in the desert? 

While Pinchas’s act seems fanatical and too extreme for our liberal minds to grasp and appreciate, the truth is that his spontaneity in sanctifying God’s name was not mandated by explicit Halacha.  Nebulous by its very core, the principle of “Kana’av Pogim Bo”- that one who sees a Jew cohabitating with a non-Jewish woman is allowed to kill them in a most unrehearsed and instinctive way- is not a rule that it mandated by the black and white of Halacha.  In fact, the only license is to react immediately to the repulsive scene, and once that moment has passed, the license is gone and there is absolutely no death penalty warranted for the Jew who committed the act.  A true anomaly to the normal strict rulings of Halacha, “Ka’nav Pogim Bo” is defined by the will of spontaneous reaction and the instinct to take measures to one’s own hands in defending the glory of God. The Sefas Emes explains that this novel act of Pinchas was representative of the general metamorphosis that the young embryonic nation was undergoing in their transition from being the baby cared for in the desert solely by the hand of God to the child who forms individual opinion and acts independently.  No better words can illustrate the way that the “baby” stage of the Jewish people were taught to be passive in their total dependence on God than the words of Moshe before the splitting of the Yam Suf: “God will fight for you, and as such, you should remain silent.”  That statement sums up the self-perception of the first generation of Jews who were meant to observe and witness God’s manifestation while they themselves just took it all in.  As the future of the Jewish people who would live in Israel under the realms of “Tevah,” the seemingly “natural” course of the world where they would be self-sufficient and independent, the second generation developed a sense of inner strength by which they could take matters to their own hands in all aspects of their lives, including the aspects of spirituality.  Instead of only looking to God’s open hand to show them the truth of life, the new generation fostered a sense of innate confidence to know God’s will and to act on his behalf without seeing his open hand.  It was for this reason, explains the Sefas Emes, that it was so crucial that it be Pinchas, a young member of the future of the Jews, who performed the act of “Kana’av Pogim Bo,” as opposed to Moshe or Yehoshua.

The Sefas Emes takes this idea as the theme of the Parsha, explaining that the key in the war against Midan was that God not only told the Jews to fight them, but he rather added an imperative for how the Jews were to emotionally relate to Midan- “tzror es hamidyanim”- hate them.  It was not the Jews robotically fulfilling the word of God; it was learning the correct attitude to adopt against an enemy who threatens the spirituality of the nation.  There was a new census taken as a count of the “second generation” Jews before they would enter Israel, sealed by Moshe appointing Yehoshua as the new leader for the future.  It is fascinating to reflect on this very metamorphosis that we all undergo periodically throughout our lives.  We watch, observe and witness, appreciate, respect, mimic, mimic some more, and then hopefully arrive to an individual acquisition of our new selves.  There is a time to watch and be silent and there is a time to instinctively act based on sheer will and confidence, and only the “wise man” knows when to apply the two.  


Wed, June 7 2023 18 Sivan 5783