An important lesson taken from this week’s Torah portion is that we should never be afraid to stand up for what is right.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is “Pinchas” (Numbers 25:10–30:1), and in it we read how Pinchas took matters into his own hands when he saw too much “touchy-touchy” taking place between Zimri, the prince of the tribe of Shimon, and Kozbi, a Midianite princess.
Zimri had the ultimate “chutzpah.” Zimri asked Moses in full public view: “Moses, son of Amram, is this Midianite woman prohibited to me or permitted to me? If you are going to tell me that she is prohibited to me, then who permitted you to marry your Midianite wife, Tzipporah?”
While it is true that Moses’s wife Tzipporah was a Midianite, he married her before the Torah was given, and by extension, before the mitzvot (Torah commandments, including the ban on intermarriage) were binding. So too, Tzipopora accepted monotheism prior to marrying Moses, which was the equivalent of conversion to Judaism at the time.
Zimri’s question, of course, was rhetorical, and he had no interest in Moses’ input. He then proceeded, essentially in public, to commit his sin with Kozbi. Moses didn’t know what to do next. Moses forgot the law that a “zealot” who sees such explicit sin is allowed to “take the law into his own hands” and kill the perpetrators.
So Pinchas, who knew the law, told Moses what the law is, grabbed his spear and sent it through the stomachs of these two sinners. A plague that God had sent that had been killing people stopped. (We are told that God gets exceptionally grouchy at the sight of immorality.)
The question is asked: If Pinchas went and reminded Moses of the law, why didn’t Moses take the spear and do the deed? Moses should have taken the lead, or at the very least, why didn’t Pinchas encourage Moses or honor him by allowing him to carry out the law? Why did Pinchas proceed to do the deed?
One explanation is that Pinchas was a zealot in more way than one. Our sages teach us that it is better to perform a mitzvah oneself rather than to appoint someone else to do it on one’s behalf. In a similar teaching, the sages say that when the opportunity to do a mitzvah comes to your hands, do not let it pass.
So although it would have certainly been honorable and noble to have the leader of the Jewish people perform this very rare mitzvah, Pinchas the zealot jumped at the opportunity.
It is also explained that a leader is happy to see his followers take initiative and be independent. When our children are young, we parents provide them with their every need. We do everything for them. But there comes a time when the child has grown, matured into an adult, and become independent. We are not upset to see our children become independent….we are proud of them! It also shows that we were successful in our job as parents.
So it was with Moses. He was happy to see that his children, students, followers, think for themselves and act for themselves, especially when acting for the sake of God.
There are so many lessons to take from the story of “Pinchas and the Deed.” We should never be afraid to stand up for what’s right, we should always be eager to fulfill mitzvot at every opportunity, and we should lead in a way that brings success by leaving a next generation that follows in our footsteps and maintains our traditions and values.
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.