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  • Andrew Roland

Parashat Pinchas 5777: Fanatic about peace

Fanaticism and fundamentalism! Some of the worst dangers in Jewish History! Every single time that their awful spirit ruled over the Jews, the story finished in destruction and tragedy. And behold, we have Parashat Pinchas and it gives us a very confusing message: God rewards Pinchas the Cohen, Aaron’s grandson, with a Brit Shalom, a covenant of peace, and with eternal priesthood, why? Because he committed an act of extreme zeal. Let’s understand the facts. The women of Moab tempted the sons of Israel to be with them and to join them in their rituals and pagan ceremonies. The sons of Israel break and go after the Moabite women and God, in anger, sent a plague that killed 24.000 of the children of Israel. The peak of the story is when one of the leaders of Israel have sex with the daughter of one of the leaders of Moab in front of everyone, maybe as a part of a pagan sexual ceremony. The people, including Moshe, look horrified and impotent. Pinchas appears and kills the two of them with a spear. The force that destroys is sexuality. Not money, not territory, not honor, but the sexual impulse of man. However, we know that in Judaism sexuality is not seen as a sin; on the contrary, it is seen as a blessing. Sexuality in the Torah is called “knowledge”, as in “Adam knew his wife Eve”, to know somebody in a way that no other mean of communication achieves. Sexuality is a wonderful tool to deepen intimacy. Sexuality is the strongest force, after self preservation, that drives animal life in the World. On the other side, there is nothing like sexuality to achieve the opposite of intimacy: to use people, to destroy trust, to break families, even a people, according to this Parashah. The role of the Cohen is to strengthen the peace in the World, as we learn from Pirkei Avot: “Be of the students of Aaron the Cohen, lover of peace, pursuer of peace, loving human beings and bringing them closer to the Torah”. Pinchas goes against his own education at home, his education for peace. He decided that in this situation peace was not the answer, that violence and killing was needed to preserve the greater good. How dangerous are these words, how many people have been killed for the greater good, only this once, only because is needed. So, can zeal, fanatism and fundamentalism be good for something? My first answer would be simply no. On the other side, when the forces of destruction rule, crashing the unity required for love, the intimacy of peace, maybe in these cases could be that extraordinary steps, even violent ones, are justified in order to return the balance? Is there in Pinchas some hidden message for us, children of the 21st Century, scared from fundamentalism? I am afraid to say “maybe”, because I am really afraid of religious fanatics, but we cannot ignore this story from our Torah, neither God’s response to it. The right to self-defense is enshrined in our Torah, because if we are both equal in front of God, then I have the right to prefer my life to that of the other. Even in this case, however, my blood is not more blue or red that the blood of the other. In this slippery slope of fanaticism, love and sexuality we have to be very careful. We cannot take upon ourselves the role of Pinchas easily. It is very hard to tell the difference between making our best efforts for the sake of unity and love, and fanaticism for the sake of ego, self interest, racism or nationalism. On this little and complex difference the peace of the World stands. Therefore, God gives Pinchas and his successors a covenant of peace, in order to be able to bridge the opposites and make peace between them. I wish that we can identify the powerful forces that break our soul into little pieces and deepen our loneliness and disconnection from the World. And when we identify them, that we know how to transform them into forces of unity and love and if we are fanatic about this transformation, about unity and love, maybe we will succeed to bring more peace to the World.

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