Monday, July 7, 2014

Stained Righteousness

Parshat Pichas
Bamidbar 25:10 - 30:1
14 Tammuz 5774 / July 11 – 12, 2014

Stained Righteousness
by Zvi Bellin, MHHQ

This week’s parsha is complicated for me. It begins with Pinchas (Aaron’s grandson) who after killing an Israelite man and a Midianite woman in the midst of coitus, is rewarded by God with the eternal gift of priesthood.  The back story is that the Israelites meet the Midianites on the way to Canaan and the Midianite women lure the Israelite men into a bit of a sex party. Pinchas’ bloody action, as you might guess, breaks up the fun. The fact that violence is commended and rewarded so highly does not compute in my brain and my reaction is, NOPE – I don’t get it.

The text states, in last week’s portion, that as the couple were publicly having sex, there was a plague occurring where other Israelites were dropping like flies. This plague claimed 24,000 lives and after Pinchas’ act of zealotry, people stopped dying. This leads me to believe that there was more at stake here than inter-religious baby making. The Israelites were under a spiritual and/or cultural attack. This was no meeting of two peaceful cultures for the sake of expanding wisdom. The Israelites were vulnerable and ungrounded, and if the charge led by this Israelite man would have succeeded, our history might have ended there. Pinchas killed two and saved thousands, and generations to come.

This ultimately does not satisfy me. I do not love Pinchas. Aaron’s lineage is about being a Rodef Shalom (a pursuer of peace) using peaceful means. His grandson seems to bring peace, though falls short in employing peaceful means – so there is a bit of a stain on his reward. The text suggests that God’s feelings towards what happened were not super positive either. First, in the parsha, when Pinchas is first mentioned, his name is spelled with a smaller-than-usual yud,  י ,this denotes a limiting of Divine favor, as yud is a letter in God’s holy name.
In addition, in the phrase for Pinchas’ blessing, which the Torah says is a Brit Shalom - ברית שלום -   a covenant of peace – the letter vav (ו )in the word Shalom is broken in the middle. This letter is also a letter in God’s name. To me this says that this covenant of peace has something broken within it.

As I reflect on this theme of stained righteousness, I think of the current events in Israel and Palestine. Four teenagers lost their lives for the sake of some supposed holier purpose. It makes me very sad that Israel still finds itself struggling to secure peace through peaceful means. It is easy to get sucked into an argument over which side is more right. I think that the Parsha teaches us that even if you think that one side is right, it does not mean that this side is whole. Ultimately, it is not enough to be right. Correctness does not lead to peace.  Ramy Kaufler, MH Business and Finance Manager, shared this article with me, about how the families of the victims have connected to share in each other’s pain. To me, this is the wholly-est ending to such tragic stories and the best learning from such pain. It is the truest meaning of a Brit Shalom.


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