THE ZEALOTS’S PEACE
The Lord spoke to Moses… Pinchas, the son of Eleazar son of Aaron …. has turned back My wrath from the Israelites b’kan’o et kin’a’ti (with being zealous for My jealousy for Me)… say therefore I grant him briti shalom, My covenant of peace. [Numbers 25: 10 – 12]
A Divine induced plague raged in the Israelite camp as punishment for the attraction of men to Midianite women and a willingness to embrace their idolatrous worship. The crisis was intensified when Zimri, the head of the Simeonites, publicly engaged is sexual activity with the Midianite princess, Cozbi.
Moses and the entire leadership were reduced to weeping over the obvious unraveling of their community and its wanton disregard of God’s will. At this moment, the young Pinchas, the son of Eleazar and the grandson of Aaron took matters in his own hands. He seized a spear with which he publicly impaled Zimri and Cozbi. The Torah then records that God's reward for this act of zealotry was the blessing of briti shalom, My covenant of peace.
The p’shat (simple reading of the text) notes the disconnect between Pinchas’ violence and God’s blessing of peace. The Rabbinic commentators and Biblical interpreters have devoted reams of paper in attempting to paper over this obvious contradiction between the act and the reward. Yet despite all these efforts, it remains a challenge to harmonize Pinchas’ slaying of the two “lovers” and God’s response.
God describes Pinchas’ actions as b’kan’o et kin’a’ti which the JPS translates as “displaying his passion for Me,” and Everett Fox as “being zealous with My jealousy for Me" as God’s response to the unforgivable act of defying Him.
Zealousness, of course, is problematical. No law abiding society dare accept individuals taking the law into their own hands in order to protect or further an ideal. We deplore the vigilante who takes it upon him/herself to eradicate what he regards as evil in our midst. Thus pro-life zealots murdered doctors who performed abortions on the grounds that the latter were baby killers who had to be stopped in their tracks. If society failed to act then the true believer had no choice but to take matters in his own hands.
Yet even as we deplore the zealot’s illegal and immoral actions, there is more than a trace of admiration for his passion. Denounce zealotry as we will, and as we must, we are keenly aware that the zealot does care deeply about his issue. We may not agree with him and certainly not with his vigilantism, but we cannot deny his passion for his cause.
The nation is now in the midst of a political campaign. The contenders for our highest office are all too often a mirror image of the zealot. They strive to be as acceptable as possible to as many people and groups as possible. Hence the ambiguous statements; the flip-flopping that is positively pictured as flexibility; the sense that a candidate will say virtually anything that is called for by the moment to solicit support. This mirror image of the zealot should and does disturb us; the absence of deeply held beliefs reflects a hollow inner core.
Yet zealousness and flexibility need not be mutually exclusive. In a sense they can complement one another. Thus God’s promise to the zealous Pinchas is a very real charge. Maintain your zealousness and hold fast to your principles, but recognize that in the end compromise is the essential infrastructure of a strong and stable social order. The divine gift and challenge is briti shalom, My covenant of peace.
The commentators seize upon this to dwell and expand upon the blessings of shalom. One Rabbi summed it up best when he noted that all of God’s blessings are collected and given to us in the container of shalom.
Shalom requires negotiation and compromise and an acceptance that the competing point of view may also well be passionately embraced. This represents a “sticky wicket” for the zealot, but the challenge before him is to be clear about his beliefs and his position, but at the same to be willing to engage in a dialogue to advance as much of his cause as is possible.
The true and acceptable goal of the zealot must not be to destroy all who disagree, but to pursue the formula that advances the social order’s stability and peace. This is a challenge not only for political candidates, not only for heads of nations, but also for all who value grasping the greatest trophy God holds out to any and all of us: Shalom
From the holy city of Jerusalem , Rae joins me in wishing all a Shabbat Shalom U’Mevorach, a Shabbat of peace and blessing.
Rabbi Arnold M. Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar
Ahavath Achim Synagogue
Atlanta, Georgia 30327
July 12, 2012
22 Tammuz 5772