ZEALOTRY AND THE COVENANT OF PEACE
The Lord spoke to Moses saying: Pinchas the son of Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest has turned back My wrath from the Israelites by displaying among them his zealousness for Me….Say therefore that I grant hm My covenant of peace. [Numbers 25: 10-13]
I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. [Barry Goldwater, 1964}
Pinchas demonstrates his loyalty to God by taking it upon himself to slay the Simeonite leader together with the Midianite princess who were engaged in open sexual activity even as they worshiped the idol Baal Peor. For his loyalty, God labels and extols Pinchas as a kanai, (a zealot fanatic), and rewards him with the Divine covenant of peace. Many Rabbinic sources were not supportive of this vigilante act, but the Biblical text is clear not only in exonerating Pinchas, but in praising him.
The rabbinic quandary is in the obvious disconnect between being a lover of peace and a zealot who commits an act of violence. This “values” conflict is no less relevant today. We too struggle with the inner contradiction between extremism and the pursuit of peace.
The greatest challenge to achieving peace is the presence and determination of extremists whose violent acts inevitably strengthen the barriers that separate adversaries. These acts somehow justify the worst fears of groups and peoples. The zealot’s goal is to inflict pain upon the adversary while thwarting any attempts at rapprochement. Zealots also contend that their actions will ultimately tilt the status quo in their favor that will result in a favorable peace for their people. The reality, however, is that the covenant of peace can only be achieved through negotiation, recognition and dialogue. The zealot acts with disregard of his adversary; the seeker of peace sits at the table with his foe in the hope that a way will be found to forge an equitable coexistence.
The number of settler youth serving in the IDF far exceeds its percentage in the overall population. I have no doubt that the vast majority of “settlers” prefer shalom to war and peace to violence. They know the Rabbinic teaching that shalom is God's greatest blessing. They accept the beauty of God's gift of the covenant of peace. The extremists in their midst justify their violence as thwarting any peace agreement that contravenes their belief that God intended for Jews to live in all parts of Eretz Yisrael.
I am also certain that the majority of Palestinians would welcome a peaceful resolution of the conflict with Israel. Yet they too contend with the power and influence of extremists who are zealous in their opposition to Israel. They continue to frustrate the Palestinians who dream of a peace that will bring about better lives for themselves and their families.
Thus the presence of kanaim, zealots, in both sides is a serious obstacle to arriving at a covenant of peace. The reluctance, and certainly the refusal, to engage in serious conflict resolution flies in the face of both common sense as well as our tradition’s constant reminder that those who pursue and forge a covenant of peace fulfill a vital divine mandate.
From the holy city of Jerusalem, Rae and I wish you a Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorach – a Shabbat of peace and of blessing.
Rabbi Arnold M. Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar
Ahavath Achim Synagogue
Atlanta, Georgia 30327
July 14, 2011
12 Tmmuz 577