Zealotry for the Good
n the midst of the sadness and angst that envelops us yet here in Israel and
throughout the entire Jewish world, the story of Pinchas, the righteous
zealot, rewarded by Heaven for his act of zealotry and violence, intrudes.
We are still reeling from the killings and rockets and losses that we have
so recently suffered. So, what are we to make of this most puzzling incident
recorded for us in our holy Torah?
The Talmud teaches us that it was only through miraculous Heavenly
interventions that Pinchas was able to slay the Midianite princess and the
Leader of the tribe of Shimon and escape with his own life still intact. And
the fact that the Lord, so to speak, extends His Divine hand of friendship,
priesthood, peace and position to Pinchas, certainly shows God’s
acquiescence to Pinchas’ act.
Yet the Talmud and Jewish tradition are of the opinion that only Pinchas’
act of zealotry is to be admired. All other acts of unilateral zealotry in
Jewish society in later generations are to be shunned. The prophet Elijah,
who in Jewish tradition is identified somehow with Pinchas, is chastised by
Heaven to moderate his zealotry and despair regarding the acknowledged evils
of Jewish behavior in his time. Instead, he is assigned to be present at all
circumcision ceremonies, Pesach sedorim and to be the prophet of Jewish
redemption and reconciliation.
He becomes the witness to Jewish loyalty and continuity. In effect, his
zealotry is to be rechanneled into positive energy and eternal goodness.
Elijah becomes thereby the fulfillment of God’s commitment to Pinchas of
peace, nobility and eternal greatness. It is this redirection of zealous
energy to positive force that lies at the heart of God’s commitment to
The Talmud teaches us that we cannot exist as human beings in this world by
attempting to eliminate completely our negative instincts – our yetzer hara.
Our task, rather, is to redirect those instincts and forces that define us
as human beings into positive and productive activities and behavior.
One of the fundamental weaknesses of other faiths has been their attempt to
completely negate the natural impulses that are part of all human nature.
Celibacy and long states of meditation are not the tools of lasting
spiritual enhancement and human continuity. Engaging our instincts and
energy and channeling them into positive projects and holy endeavors is the
wish of the Torah.
The zealotry of Pinchas and Elijah should be exploited for good causes – the
priesthood and public service, compassion for others and a sense of Jewish
unity, eternity and holy mission. It is the transformation of Pinchas from
the man of violence to the man of peace that is the message of the Torah in
this week’s parsha. The story of Pinchas is recorded for us in the Torah to
teach us that such transformations are possible and indeed necessary for the
ultimate good of the Jewish people and humanity generally. The Jewish story
is that Pinchas becomes Elijah and Elijah becomes the harbinger of Jewish
redemption and eternity.
Rabbi Berel Wein