Living Torah by Rabbi Ari Enkin
This week’s Torah portion is Pinchas (Numbers 25:10–30:1). For those unfamiliar, Pinchas was the zealot who took initiative for God’s sake. When Pinchas witnessed a horribly immoral act between a Jewish man (Zimri) and a Midianite woman (Kozbi), Pinchas took his spear and executed them while they were in the act. As a reward for his zeal in defending the honor of God and the Torah, Pinchas was rewarded by becoming a member of the ‘Kehuna’ – the Priestly tribe.
The Torah also tells us that Pinchas was awarded the “covenant of peace”, which, in, other words, means that Pinchas won the “Peace Prize”! Indeed, while some might question the legitimacy of Pinchas’ killing of the two sinners, the Torah goes out of its way to emphasizes that Pinchas did the right thing and was even rewarded for what he did. In fact, in addition to becoming a Kohen, Pinchas is also honored by being mentioned at the start of every circumcision, brit mila, ceremony.
Why all the praise for Pinchas?
There is a parable about a merchant who had a valued assistant. In exchange for his services, the assistant was given room and board. On one occasion, where a business opportunity arose and the merchant was unable to attend to it himself, the assistant took the initiative – going above and beyond his call of duty – to ensure that his boss would get the best deal. After many hours of negotiations, the assistant finally secured his employer a deal with thousands and thousands in profits.
When the merchant became aware of what transpired, he wanted to award his loyal assistant with elaborate gifts—but the assistant refused. The assistant explained that he was just doing his job, but the merchant countered that this was far more than his job required. Nowhere in their agreement did it say that the assistant had to work overtime, miss meals, and take such initiative. The merchant ‘won’ showered his assistant with gifts.
Pinchas is like the assistant in our parable. All the Jews in the desert got “room and board” just for doing what they should be doing – guarding and observing the mitzvot of the Torah. However, Pinchas wasn’t just living the life of what we should all be doing – he was willing TO GIVE his life for what we should all be doing. Far more than what was required. For that he was given honor and rewards.
In addition to a commitment to Torah and mitzvot that we should aspire to internalize in a manner that Pinchas did, the legacy of Pinchas is much more than that. The message and legacy of Pinchas is the importance of taking initiative and getting the job done – especially when there is no one else to do it. Recall: it wasn’t Moses, the leader of the Jewish people who took the initiative and killed Zimri and Kozbi for their abominable behavior – it was Pinchas. Pinchas, in many ways, was just one of us. Why didn’t Moses kill them? Because sometimes the leader just can get everything done himself. The leader needs the help of the people and the nation. The leader needs go-getters like Pinchas. Leaders need go-getters like you and me.
Today is no different. The leaders of the State of Israel cannot do all the work on their own. We, the people, must take initiative and make Israel’s case known to the world. We must educate our friends, neighbors, and others who may not know the truth about Israel and what she is up against. Our spears are our pens, emails, voices, and influence. We must defend the honor of God, His land, and His people whenever and wherever we can.
Shabbat Shalom from Israel!
Rabbi Ari Enkin
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