Shabbat Forshpeis |
A Taste of Torah in Honor of Shabbat
IS ZEALOTRY THE PATHWAY TO PEACE
JULY 9-10, 2004/ 21 TAMMUZ 5764
By Rabbi Avi Weiss
After Pinhas killed
the Jewish man and Midianite woman who were committing immoral acts, God applauds Pinhas, granting him a "covenant of peace (brit shalom)." (Numbers 25:12) Can we deduce from God's approval, that zealotry is desirable?
Netziv (R. Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin, 19th C.) sees the brit shalom as a counter measure to zealotry. He notes "that the nature of his (Pinhas) act, killing with his own hand, tends to leave a harsh feeling in the heart. He who acted for the sake of heaven, was [therefore] granted a blessing to remain gentle and peaceful." Here, Netziv points out the need of an antidote for zealotry.
Perhaps his idea can be taken a step further. Rather than viewing the Pinhas story as an approval of other acts of zealotry, it may teach the opposite. Zealotry is limited to the case of Pinhas, who received the brit shalom from God. In other cases, where God does not offer His explicit imprimatur, zealotry is prohibited.
Note that the ancestor of Pinhas disapproved of zealotry. Pinhas is a descendant of Levi who participated in the decimation of the city of Shekhem. His father Yaakov (Jacob) was incensed, and on his deathbed disavowed any connection to Levi's brutal act. (Genesis 49:6)
Note also that Pinhas' descendant, the prophet Eliyahu (Elijah) may have been removed from his position after becoming over-zealous. This occurs when Eliyahu, in this week's Haftorah, declares to God "zealous have I been for the Lord...for the children of Israel have forsaken your covenant." (I Kings 19:10) God then indicates to Eliyahu that His spirit is not found in the wind, the earthquake or fire ...rather God's presence is best felt through "a still small voice." (I Kings 19:11,12) After Eliyahu persists in his commitment to being zealous, God tells him that he will be replaced by his student, Elisha. (I Kings 19:14-16)
In fact, a reading of the Book of Joshua reveals that Pinhas comes full circle. Years after his zealous act, Pinhas brokers a truce between Israel and the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half of Menasheh. (Joshua 22) Some commentaries suggest that only after Pinhas' intercession, an intercession which avoids a split within the Jewish people, is Pinhas completely embraced as a leader. (Tosafot, Zevahim 101b)
The pathway to redemption is not the way of the Pinhas in our portion, but the Pinhas in the Book of Joshua. This pathway to redemption will reach its crescendo when Eliyahu, the descendant of Pinhas, returns parents to children and children to parents, the antithesis of zealotry, as he announces the coming of the Messiah. (Malakhi 3:23-24)
Rabbi Avi Weiss