Once upon a time, in the days of Moses and the Jews in the Wilderness, the Moabite women were seducing young Jewish men. The Almighty was angered and sent a plague upon His people. Jews were dying left, right and center. To compound matters, Zimri, a Prince from the Tribe of Shimon was himself consorting with a Midianite Princess named Kozbi and flaunting their illicit relationship in the face of Moses.
Enter Pinchas, a young Jewish zealot, and in true zealot tradition he kills both Zimri and Kozbi. Suddenly, the plague stops. No more Jews die. And G-d declares Pinchas not a murderer but a hero, ‘Defender of the Faith,’ and bestows upon him the world’s first peace prize. “Behold I give him my covenant of peace.” He is appointed to the priesthood and as befits a hero gets a whole portion of the Bible named after him, this week’s parsha, Pinchas.
Now I have serious reservations as to whether Dale Carnegie would use Pinchas as a role model for How to Win Friends and Influence People. I am definitely not suggesting that we root out all sinners and put a spear through them. What was appropriate in ancient times is not necessarily appropriate today. The way to stop the internal hemorrhaging of our people through assimilation and intermarriage today is clearly not the way of Pinchas.
Zimri was rebellious with intent. He knew full well that what he was doing was wrong. It was a deliberate provocation on his part. Most people who turn their backs on Judaism today, though, do so out of ignorance. They simply don’t know. Nobody taught them. It’s not their fault. We cannot condone it, but such people don’t need a whipping, they need a whetting of their spiritual appetite. They need an education, urgently. They need a lot of love and warmth and for people to reach out to them and share the beauty of a Shabbos or an inspirational Shul experience. Show them their own Jewishness and how meaningful it truly is and they will no longer want to give it up.
What then is the message of Pinchas for our time?
Perhaps, that sometimes, even today in our super sensitive, tolerant society we do need to take a stand. There will be issues which demand that we put our foot down, that we insist, that we say ‘No!’
It might be different issues for different people. For some it may be Jerusalem, for others Yom Kippur, and for still others it might be insisting that their daughter’s boyfriend may not sleep over. Somewhere, surely, there has got to be a bottom line.
Generally, diplomacy and positive encouragement work much better than fighting. We are not trying to train Jewish holy fundamentalists to go around killing infidels. But inevitably there will be occasions when even pacifists like us will need to adopt the zero tolerance Pinchas approach. Sooner or later, we will be required to stand up and be counted. There will come a time when we, too, will have to say, “I’m sorry. I cannot accept this kind of behavior. This is wrong. Stop!”
Even in our OK Generation, not everything is OK.