Politically Incorrect!
Zimri, the prince of the tribe of Shimon, consorted with the Midianite princess Cozby, ostensibly to justify similar acts of debauchery by many other Jews. What was G‑d’s response to these depraved acts? A plague that claimed 24,000 lives. Was Pinchas’ lethal reaction the ultimate act of politically incorrect zealotry that it appeared to be?.
In the end of last week’s parsha the Torah relates how Pinchas reacted to this colossal tragedy. He speared Zimri and Cozby to death, thereby stopping the plague from spreading further.
This week’s parsha begins with the Torah praising Pinchas for this courageous act that placated G‑d’s anger and saved all the other Jewish lives that were threatened by this communal decadence.
When the Torah mentions Pinchas name in last week’s parsha as well as in the opening verse of this week’s parsha it refers to him as “the son of Elazar, the son of Aaron, the Kohain.”
The question has been asked why the Torah needs to identify him by his grandfather? It would have sufficed, as it usually does when the Torah names someone, to mention just his father’s name. Everyone knows that Elazar was the son of Aaron, as it was mentioned several times before. Why use grandfather Aaron’s name?
Followed in Aaron’s Footsteps
One answer is based on Rashi’s commentary (See Likkutei Sichos volume 5). Aaron was known for his unbounded tolerance, pursuit of peace, love and kindness. By invoking Aaron’s memory, the Torah was informing us that Pinchas did not perform his drastic act of zealotry out of cruelty. On the contrary, he was motivated by the same love shown by his grandfather Aaron and acted solely to save the Jewish people from terrible suffering and death.
Another mystical answer is found in the classic work of Kabbalah, the Zohar (volume 3:317a). As Pinchas approached Zimri and Cozby his soul was augmented by the souls of his departed uncles Nadav and Avihu (the two elder sons of Aaron who died when they brought an unauthorized offering to the Mishkan-Sanctuary). This rectified their souls’ transgressions. The Torah therefore states that he was the “son of Elazar, the son of Aaron,” to allude to the fact that he was both the son of Elazar and also the son of Aaron, inasmuch as he now possessed the souls of Aaron’s two sons.
This incredible revelation that the souls of Nadav and Avihu were transmigrated into Pinchas is explained by the 16th century Kabbalist, Rabbi Menachem Azariah da Fano (known by the acronym Rameh of Fano), in his classic work Asarah Ma’amros. As mentioned, the Zohar stated that their souls were rectified when they entered Pinchas’ body. Their sin, according to the Talmud, was a bit more complicated than just bringing an unauthorized offering. It was made worse by their not having first consulted with Moses, their teacher. In other words, it was the lack of respect for higher authority, particularly that of Moses. The reason they so impulsively brought this offering was that their souls were on fire and their passion for G‑d blinded them from seeing the error of their ways.
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 82a) records two opinions about Pinchas’ zealous act. According to Rav, Pinchas consulted with Moses and reminded him of the law that sanctioned this act of zealotry. Moses told him to carry out the execution.
The question arises, why did Pinchas have to consult with Moses if he already knew the law? Furthermore, the Talmud records Shmuel’s opinion that Pinchas was not required to consult with Moses because in times of emergency, when G‑d’s very “reputation” is sullied and His name desecrated, one need not show honor to one’s teacher. If that is the case (and indeed, Rav agrees with this principle in Berachos 19b), why did Pinchas feel compelled to consult with Moses?
The answer, Rabbi Menachem da Fano offers is that Pinchas’ commitment to respecting Moses’ authority was the channel through which Nadav and Avihu’s souls were rectified. Because they had allowed their passion to override their obligation to honor Moses, they (whose souls were now one with Pinchas) gravitated to the opposite extreme and consulted with Moses although he/they was/were not obliged to do so in this instance.
Pinchas: Multiple Personalities
Pinchas, the Zohar informs us, is actually Elijah, the zealous prophet who never died but ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot and whose spirit is present at every Bris-Circumcision and Passover Seder. He is the same Elijah who will announce the coming of Moshiach and who will heal the rifts in families as a precursor to universal peace of the Messianic Era.
We must try to understand the connection between Pinchas (Nadav and Avihu) and the work of Elijah.
The first thing that comes to mind is their shared zealousness. This raises the question, how can we reconcile zealousness with Moshiach and universal peace? True, there are times when we must use strong measures, tough love and even violence, to protect the innocent and rid the world of evil and all its impediments to peace. But it seems that zealotry, with which Pinchas and Elijah are both identified, is not just a necessary evil but a direct source of peace.
The Anatomy of a True Zealot
To understand the relationship between zealotry and peace we must first dissect the anatomy of a true zealot. When we do, we find the opposite of what most people picture when they conjure up the image of a zealot.
To help us with this analysis we need to refer back to the idea that Pinchas’ zealousness was a product of the transmigration of the souls of Nadav and Avihu.
Nadav and Avihu would hardly be considered zealots in the conventional sense of the term. They had a single, obsessive concern in their lives; they wanted to get as close to G‑d as possible or even “as impossible.” They were prepared to allow their souls to be ignited with unlimited love and passion for G‑d even if it meant, nay, because it meant, that they would leave this materialistic and ephemeral world and become attached to the Divine.
When this passion, although not favored by G‑d because it takes a person out of the very world G‑d sent our souls into, is augmented with an imperative sense of responsibility for others, produces a true zealot.
This explains the fusion of Nadav and Avihu’s souls with Pinchas. They had the passion; Pinchas had the sense of responsibility for his afflicted people.
A genuine Torah zealot is a synthesis of these two opposing characteristics. It is one who has a passionate love and unquenchable thirst for G‑d; whose soul pines for closeness to Him, as King David so eloquently exclaims: “G‑d You are my G‑d, I search for You, my soul thirsts for You, my flesh longs for You, as a parched arid land without water...” (Psalm 63) This is the Divinely inspired poetic voice of a person deeply in love with G‑d, committed to His service and who desires nothing less than attachment to Him.
However, this love has to be redirected to save the community from a calamity. The zealot must shift gears to engage the physical world. Indeed, nothing is more incongruous with love than committing acts of extreme violence. The true zealot is one who is able to transcend his own nature. The true zealot must be able to control his passion for the spiritual, climb down from his celestial perch and deal with lowly affairs and even use tactics that are totally against his nature.
An inauthentic zealot is one who inclines to violence only. He may camouflage that proclivity by seeking out causes where he can legitimize his violent temperament in the guise of doing it for a valuable principle. The authentic zealot must have an abiding love and passion for G‑d even when he cannot remain silent in the face of evil and its destructive path.
Nadav and Avihu’s passion made it impossible for them to act; its rapture took them out of this world. Nadav and Avihu’s souls had to be brought back and placed into Pinchas as he demonstrated tremendous discipline by consulting Moses even when Jewish law did not require it. That fusion of Nadav-and-Avihu passion with Pinchas’ profound sense of discipline and responsibility was the winning combination that transformed him into a real “kosher” zealot.
The Messianic Synthesis
We can now understand how it is that Elijah (who is identified by the Zohar as Pinchas, who was himself a composite of Nadav and Avihu) will usher in the Messianic age of universal peace. The question was raised, how can a violent zealot be associated with ultimate peace?
The answer is that the Messianic Age is about the complete and seamless fusion of the Divine with the earthly. We will all be filled with passion for the spiritual and Divine even as we live a full life within the framework of the physical world. The road to that ideal is not through spiritual elitism or indifference. We must invest our passion in the pursuit of a more G‑dly life by climbing to spiritual heights. At the same time, we cannot remain perched on a lofty spiritual mountain. We cannot be withdrawn from society and its needs; we must be prepared to roll up our sleeves and, if need be, fight injustice and immorality just as Pinchas and Elijah of old. This synthesis is the hallmark of all who will pave the way for the Final Redemption. It will transform the Three Weeks of sadness we are presently observing in memory of the events that led to the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash into Three Weeks of joy and celebration with Elijah and Moshiach at our head!
Moshiach Matters:
Every man, woman and child has an individual responsibility to work to bring about Moshiach's coming. No one can shoulder this burden for another; each individual's own efforts and energy are needed. "Action, not words, is what matters." We must prepare for the coming of Moshiach by increasing our study of Torah and enhancing our performance of its commandments.