We read the parasha, and too often we are distracted from the main point of the story by our own internal monologue. We sit in the synagogue and we think, “Oh, here’s that story. Pinchas. Right. The guy with the spear who killed some prostitute or something. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Pinchas was a bit hot headed. Moshe thought he was bad, G-d thought he was good. We know. OK, when does the Kiddush start.” Let’s be real. A lot of the time, the Parasha just doesn’t seem to relate much to our lives. Except for right about now.
Right about now, just after beating my head against the wall about the prisoner swap and the stupidity of the Israeli government in agreeing to it, just after having my guts ripped out by the image of two black coffins where two young healthy men should have been, just after I hear the cheering of terrorist sympathizers and victory speeches by murderous arabs and their equally evil leaders, just about now I am thinking—where is Pinchas? What happened to THAT guy? Why can’t we get him back right about now?
Normally, I would feel a little guilty for wishing that we had Pinchas in our midst. Every time I am there for the reading of Parashat Pichas, I hear some rabbi go on about how the single-mindedness of Pinchas was OK, but it wasn’t the best course of action. I am told continually that we shouldn’t be like Pinchas. After all, we are told, he was too zealous. Rabbis explain to us that he was passed over as the next leader in line after Moshe because of his actions, and the job went to Joshua instead. We are told that Pinchas just wasn’t the type of person to lead a nation.
In order to further justify their teachings about Pinchas, the rabbis focus upon the argument that ensued after Pinchas killed Zimri and Kosbi. The people were divided over whether or not Pinchas was a hero or a murderer. The divide was so great, and the argument about Pinchas so heated, that G-d had to intervene:
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Pinchas the son of Eleazar the son of Aaron the kohen has turned My anger away from the children of Israel by his zealously avenging Me among them, so that I did not destroy the children of Israel because of My zeal. Therefore, say, "I hereby give him My covenant of peace. It shall be for him and for his descendants after him [as] an eternal covenant of kehunah, because he was zealous for his God and atoned for the children of Israel.”
It’s at that point that I think to myself, “Maybe it wasn’t that Pinchas was too hot headed and too passionate to lead Israel-- maybe it was that we weren’t hot headed and passionate enough to deserve him as our leader.” Maybe we weren’t worthy of a man like Pinchas.
Yes, Joshua got to lead the nation, but Pinchas got a Covenant with G-d--the Covenant of Peace, no less.
Why isn’t this Covenant the important part of the story? Why don’t we focus on the fact that there were very few Covenants made in Torah, and they were very serious moments in Jewish history. By my count, there were only four Covenants made with humanity in the Torah: the Covenant of Noah; the Covenant of Avraham; the Covenant of the Torah with B’nei Israel; and the Covenant with Pinchas, the Covenant of Peace.
Why isn’t the Covenant of Peace as important for Jews to follow as the Covenant of Avraham? What is it about this Covenant that makes us so squeamish and so willing to forget that it even exists?
I sincerely believe that the Covenant of Peace was given to Pinchas because he was not willing to compromise. He knew what was right, and he knew what was wrong, and he wasn’t going to try to find some middle ground. He acted upon his convictions. It wasn’t like he didn’t have any patience at all. He watched as the Moabite women were sent to Israel to seduce the men away from G-d. He witnessed the continuing downward spiral of the morality of B’nei Israel. He had seen how the people were being turned away from G-d, and he saw how those in charge were avoiding the problem rather than dealing with it—sitting in front of the tent of meeting weeping while the people of Israel began to drop from Plague.
While preserving a meaningless peace, inaction had chipped away at the foundations of Israel. Finally, Pinchas knew the time was right to stop looking the other way. He got his spear and solved the problem in one moment:
He went after the Israelite man into the chamber and drove [it through] both of them; the Israelite man, and the woman through her stomach, and the plague ceased from the children of Israel.
In performing a single act of selfless devotion to G-d and the rule of law, Pinchas saved the Jewish people from G-d’s wrath. In choosing to kill, he saved countless lives.
I wish we had Pinchas now. I wish that Pinchas had been in the truck with the terrorist Kuntar when it was revealed that the bodies in the coffins were our young men.
But he wasn’t.
We are still arguing about the need for action. We are still weeping before the tent of meeting and refusing to act. We are still maintaining a meaningless peace while Israel moves daily toward annihilation.
Isn’t it time we started to act like Pinchas, and became worthy of the Covenant of Peace?