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The midrash tells us that Pinchas, the title character of this parsha, and Eliyahu, the prophet of Kings, are one and the same. In this week's parsha video, Rabbi Fohrman compares these two characters and asks, what does it mean to be zealous for God?
This is Rabbi David Fohrman and welcome to Parsha Pinchas. I want to talk to you this week about zealotry, taking matters into your own hands, doing things to uphold the honor of God that God himself has not commanded. This of course is what Pinchas does, killing to [Hebrew 00:18] offenders [Hebrew 00:20] a highly placed Jewish official who commits an inexcusable act of public intimacy with a [Hebrew 00:25] woman by the name of kasbi. It’s a time when in general the Jews are being seduced towards idolatry and towards licentiousness with the daughters of Miriam. The master of the universe expresses anger, everything is falling apart. The leaders who have allowed this to happen need to be killed, God says and in that breach Pinchas act, killing [Hebrew 00:47] at the moment. No one commanded him to do it, he did it on his own and the aftermath of that act, we are told about the rewards so to speak that Pinchas is given by God. [Hebrew 00:59], ‘I am going to give Pinchas my covenant, I am going to give him peace’. It seems like a strange kind of thing, I mean Pinchas’s act was violent and of all things he gets a covenant of peace. He was involved in the opposite of peace. We might try to wiggle out of this by saying that well, his act was a violent act and God was sort of opposed to it, so it was kind of chastisement of Pinchas in a way but that doesn’t seem to the plain sense of the verse. God seems to be very, very happy with what Pinchas did. Why of all things is God giving him a covenant of peace? I would like to start by pointing out that there was another great [Hebrew 01:40] portrayed in the bible and it is Eliza, the prophet. Interestingly our sages tell us that Eliza and Pinchas were actually the same person. Whether they mean that Pinchas never died or that he was reincarnated or was just they shared the same kind of central spirit, I cannot tell you but these two people seem to be the great [Hebrew 01:59] in biblical narrative. Let’s look at Eliza first. Eliza acts with zealon behalf of God, right when we first meet him and I mention ways of circumstances that those times were similar to those of Pinchas. In response to the mass idolatry at that time period, he unilaterally proclaimed the drought and does so, to uphold God’s honor, the honor of God has been debased. So sages have an explanation of [Hebrew 02:24] action. Tell a story with conversation with [Hebrew 02:28] king of Israel at the time of [Hebrew 02:30]. He doesn’t understand, God promises him [Hebrew 02:35], the Jews worship idolatry, there won’t be rain in the land but there’s plentiful rain and at which point [Hebrew 02:40] stands up for the honor of God and says No, by the life of God there wont be anymore rain and there’s no more rain. [Hebrew 02:47] was the other great zealot in the bible. But strangely God treats [Hebrew 02:51] very differently than God treats Pinchas. Whereas Pinchas seems to meet nothing but approval. It is questionable whether that so with [Hebrew 03:00]. Now it is true God goes along with the drought, there is no rain once Eliza declares this but ultimately God puts an end to that. There comes a time when God says, ‘Eliza, the [Hebrew 03:11] is out, there’s got to be rain’ and after the rain comes, Eliza goes on a strange journey, the journey of all places to Mount Koori otherwise known as Sinai. A journey where he doesn’t eat and he doesn’t drink for 40 days and 40 nights. There was another person who has spent 40 days and 40 nights of Sinai without packing lunch before and end. It seems like Eliza is mimicking Moshe’s experience. Why he would do so, that’s a good question and we will come back to that in a moment but in this reprise of Moshe’s experience at Sinai, God comes to Eliza and asks what he’s doing there? Why he came to the mountain and here’s is his answer, he said, [Hebrew 03:53], ‘I have acted jealously on behalf of God, the lord’. [Hebrew 03:59], ‘Left behind your covenant, God’ and then strangely God asks Eliza again. ‘What are you doing here Eliza?’ Eliza answers the same thing again and the next thing God says, ‘it is time for your retirement’. [Hebrew 04:15], ‘and Elisha, he will be the next prophet after you’. Why is Eliza being retired and why did he go to anyway? What was he doing in Sinai? So I would like to suggest a possible answer here and the answer really boils down to two words, that Eliza said, that are spelled exactly the same way as the two words that the Torah uses with respect to Pinchas. [Hebrew 04:43], ‘I have acted jealously’. Those same letters appear with respect to Pinchas. God says, commenting on Pinchas’s act that he acted wonderfully [Hebrew 04:54] ‘in expressing my jealousy’. The word can mean either zeal of jealousy, depending on the context. So it is fascinating, it’s exactly the same words, just vowelized differently, maybe that indeed has something to do with why the sages say Pinchas and [Hebrew 05:10] expressions of the same core energy but the key, perhaps to understanding the differences between these two men, why are they held with so differently by God, may lye in the transition or the transformation of [Hebrew 05:26]. Indeed these two different expressions of the same Hebrew consonants may neatly summarize for us the differences between Pinchas and [Hebrew 05:38]. Let me explain what I mean by this by getting back to that question of what [Hebrew 05:44] was doing at Sinai to begin with. Sinai is where the very first act of zealotry ever took place within Jewish history. At the moment that the Torah was being revealed because at that moment, there was an act of idolatry too. The Jews were worshiping the golden calf and in that moment, an act took place which would define forever more the parameters of [Hebrew 06:09], of human action, expressing divine jealousy. Here is the background, [Hebrew 06:16], God says to Moshe, ‘Go down the mountain’, [Hebrew 06:19], ‘your people have sinned’. Moshe responds, ‘What do you mean my people have corrupted, they aren’t my people, it is your people! You took them out of Egypt and anyway, God’, [Hebrew 06:32], ‘why should you be angry with your people?’ Now, that seems to be an outrageous claim, the people are dancing around the calf and Moshe has the temerity to say you can’t get angry! We discussed this back in Parsha [Hebrew 06:44], I will refer you tothat video for more extended discussion of this but the next thing that happens, is truly amazing. Here is Moshe who just has the gal to tell the master of the universes that you can’t be angry! The next thing that happens is Moshe goes down the mountain, he sees the calf and the very next words [Hebrew 07:03], and Moshe became angry. You just told God that anger isn’t appropriate, so what are you getting angry for? Moshe then takes the two [Hebrew 07:11] that were in his hands and smashes them at the foot of the mountain. Did God tell him to do it? No, he is acting unilaterally, he is taking tablets that God crafted. He is taking that incredible gift and he is breaking it, smashing on his own without being commanded to. I would like to suggest that paradigmatic act of [Hebrew 07:30], of human expression of divine anger and the subsequent acts of both Pinchas and [Hebrew 07:37] derive in someway from almost different interpretations of this act, it is as if that fundamental act at Sinai was a touchstone for both Pinchas and [Hebrew 07:49]. Indeed, it was at the Ten Commandments itself, that which was given at top of the mountain on those 40 days and 40 nights, The God first declared himself, [Hebrew 07:57], ‘a jealous God’, a God who will not abide by idolatry. Moshe now expresses that jealousy and in a way, that expression of jealousy becomes the president for both of the act of Pinchas and the act of [Hebrew 08:12] depending on how you interpret the golden calf itself. Here is how [Hebrew 08:19], the man who went back to Sinai might have interpreted it. Moshe did something that he was not commanded to do, he lead and God followed, he unilaterally destroyed the tablets and I, Eliza, I unilaterally declare this drought. I am defending God’s honor as Moshe did. That’s one way to see it. But there is another way to see it. It is a way that we might argue that it’s suggested by Pinchas. In the aftermath of the golden calf episode, God stood ready to destroy the entire people just as God stood ready to destroy the leaders at the time of Pinchas. [Hebrew 08:57] he told Moshe, ‘Go down’, [Hebrew 08:59], ‘I will destroy them in an instant’. Moshe tells God you must not be angry but then, Moshe goes down the mountain and Moshe is angry. It is not an act of hypocrisy, makes perfect sense. When Moshe was telling God is of course anger is wanted here but you cannot be angry. I can be angry, leave your anger to me. Moshe knew something very, very deep. Moshe was a partner as is it were a human partner with the divine in taking the Jews out of Egypt. Now when it all gone wrong, God and Moshe’s mutual offspring as it were, the Jewish people were worshiping a calf at the bottom of the mountain when they should have been standing ready to accept the Torah. It was the moment when anger on part of the divine couldn’t be avoided. The question is how would that anger be expressed. I want to give you an analogy, imagine that a father and a mother, have a child and the child, commits a shockingly egregious, upfront to both of them. Imagine that in this relationship, one of the spouses is more powerful than the other. Let’s say the father for the moment, the father heads for the child’s room. The mother knows the power of father’s anger and fears for the child. So she heads off the father and says to him, let me handle this, let me express our anger on behalf of both of us. Mother and father are an unit, one can act on behalf of the other. Mother’s anger can be on behalf of both of them but mother’s anger is safer, mother knows that in order for this plan to be affective, she has to genuinely be as angry as she possibly can. Moshe knows that he has to be as angry as he possibly can. He convinces God, so to speak, do not think this isn’t a legitimate expression of anger, look at what I have done! I have done it to your tablets, I have smashed them in the mountain, I am outraged but my outrage is much safer. You are the master of the universe, you are the infinite God. Infinite power is a dangerous thing when it comes to poor, mortal human beings. Let me express your anger and because Moshe acted this way, peace was achieved. An inanimate object, the tablets were destroyed. The people lived. There are two kinds of zealotry, one is Eliza’s. That Eliza’s did not come in a moment when God had decreed destruction upon the people. It was Eliza, who standing up with what he perceived what the honor of God to be. That’s [Hebrew 11:39], I acted jealously on God’s behalf. God ultimately retires Eliza. Jealousy that is fundamentally a human beings jealousy, even in the divine interest, God has limited tolerance for but there’s another type of zealotry, that God will not retire, that God loves abundantly, a kind of zealotry that ironically brings peace. That’s an attempt, to save. It is not when you stand up for what you think God’s honor is, it is [Hebrew 12:12], it’s the zeal of Pinchas, who interned learned from Moshe what it means to feel the jealousy of God. This kind of jealousy is not initiated by a human being. It is shared by a human. That kind of anger is in fact, ironically an ac of peace. It is the decision of the weaker partner to fully express the anger of the stronger partner because it is the only safe thing that can be done. It is the only way that peace can actually be preserved. Pinchas kills [Hebrew 12:46] but does so to save everyone else. He expresses divine anger genuinely but in it’s weakest form and in doing so, he brings peace to the nation and a covenant of peace to himself, forever.
1. V'Zot Habracha: Looking Towards the Future - Part 3/3
2. Ha'azinu: A Unique Nation - Part 2/3
3. Nitzavim-Vayeilech: Where's the Happy Ending? - Part 1/3
4. Ki Tavo: Answer
5. Ki Tavo: Question
6. Ki Teitzei: Answer
7. Ki Teitzei: Question
8. Shoftim: Epilogue 2
9. Shoftim: Epilogue 1
10. Shoftim: The Line Between Murder And Apathy
11. Re'eh: Jewish Slavery
12. Part II: Eikev: What Does It Mean To Be A Good Person?
13. Part I: Eikev: What Does It Mean To Be A Good Person?
14. Devarim: What Does It Mean To Have Faith?
15. Masei: Why Is The End of Bamidbar So Anticlimactic? II
16. Matot: Why Is The End of Bamidbar So Anticlimactic?
17. Pinchas: What Does It Mean To Be Zealous For God?
18. Balak: Balaam, Prophet For Hire?
19. Chukat: Was Hitting the Rock So Horrible?
20. Korach: Can We Influence God?
21. Shelach: Is Hope Irrational?
22. Behaalotecha: A Guide For...Parenting? Part II
23. Naso: A Guide For...Parenting?
24. Bamidbar: Who Cares About Genealogy?
25. Bechukotai: Why Would God Curse His People?
26. Behar: Why Does Land Have To Rest?
27. Emor: Is There A Shabbat In Other Realms?
28. Kedoshim: How Can I Achieve True Love?
29. Acharei Mot: The (Surprising) Purpose of Yom Kippur
30. Metzora: Living Within the Community
31. Tazria: The Bizarre Purification of the Metzora
32. Shemini: Why Did God Reject Nadav and Avihu?
33. Tzav: What Does It Mean To Survive?
34. Vayikra: Can Leaders Make Mistakes?
35. Pekudei: A Giant Chiasm In Sefer Shmot
36. Vayakhel: What Does It Mean To Be Tzelem Elokim?
37. Ki Tisa: Moshe's Benevolent Chutzpah
38. Terumah: Is There a Face Hiding in the Tabernacle?
39. Mishpatim: Female Servitude...Wait, What?
40. Yitro: The Marriage of God and Israel
41. Beshalach: What Does It Mean to Have Faith?
42. Bo: Did God Really Need Ten Plagues?
43. Va'era: Did God Take Away Pharaoh's Free Will?
44. Shmot: If Midrash is Real, Why Isn't It Peshat?
45. Vayechi: Who is Joseph's Real Father?
46. Vayigash: The Epic Confrontation Between Judah and Joseph
47. Miketz: Why Didn't Joseph Write Home?
48. Vayeishev: Who Really Sold Joseph?
49. Vayishlach: Becoming a Person of Integrity
50. Vayeitzei: Consequences of Yaakov's Deceit
51. Toldot: A Conversation For the Ages
52. Chayei Sarah: What Makes For A Successful Life?
53. Vayeira: Abraham's Struggle With Loyalty
54. Lech Lecha: Covenant With God
55. Bereishit: Does Man 'Acquire' Woman?
56. Noach: Why Did God Destroy the World?
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