Parshat Pinchas and the Need for Strong Action
On Thursday morning, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) declared in a landmark ruling that a huge tract of land in eastern Oklahoma has always been and remains a Native American reservation, without explicit Congressional action.
This decision will affect the lives of almost two million Oklahomans, mainly non-Native Americans, partly because the land in question includes the majority of Tulsa, which is Oklahoma’s second-largest city.
The question put to the court was whether Congress had ever officially abolished what was known as the Creek Nation reservation, when Oklahoma became a state in 1907.
The court ruled in a 5-to-4 decision that as Congress had “not said otherwise,” Native American land in Oklahoma — which has been Native American since the dawn of recorded time here — was legally committed to the Creek Nation by the United States government, and therefore remains a reservation, notwithstanding anything that has happened since.
In the full, published opinion, written by Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, this particular point is addressed unequivocally: “If Congress wishes to withdraw its promises, it must say so. Unlawful acts, performed long enough and with sufficient vigor, are never enough to amend the law.”
This momentous decision came about as the result of a case which started out as a left-field felony conviction appeal. In 1997, Jimcy McGirt, a 71-year-old member of the Seminole tribe, was sentenced to a 1,000-year sentence (yes, you read that correctly) after being convicted of rape, lewd molestation and forcible sodomy of a four-year-old girl. McGirt, who has never contested his guilt, claimed that his state conviction and resulting sentence should be overturned because the state of Oklahoma lacked jurisdiction.
Attorneys for the state argued that if the Supreme Court accepted McGirt’s reasoning, it would “cause the largest judicial abrogation of state sovereignty in American history, cleaving Oklahoma in half.”
But Gorsuch and his fellow justices dismissed Oklahoma’s arguments, telling them that they had been told “repeatedly that Congress does not disestablish a reservation simply by allowing the transfer of individual plots, whether to Native Americans or others.”
And although the case concerns a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, the decision will apply equally to the other members of what is known as the “Five Tribes” — the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole Nations. They were the tribes forcibly relocated from southern states in the 1830s to what became “Indian Territory.” Oklahoma became a state in 1907 and included that land, which covers most of eastern Oklahoma.
But even as some liberals in the United States supported this groundbreaking decision — a decision which recognizes the historic injustice against Native Americans by colonial expansionism, I couldn’t help but wonder how those who support the decision can simultaneously protest the possible decision by Israel to annex territory in Judea and Samaria — land that has belonged to the natives of the Land of Israel, the Jewish people, since the dawn of history. Surely the same rules apply?
True, the US Supreme Court said that Congress could take action to move the Oklahoma lands in question out of tribal territory, but since that option is not on the table for Israel, we can still look at the underlying principle.
Many of the same people who are cheerleaders for Native Americans — and I applaud them for taking up the side of the dispossessed — eagerly tout the lies and distortions of the Palestinian lobby, who use twisted logic regarding their claims to territories that were never theirs by right.
As the Supreme Court has made so clear in its decision — which can also be applied to the situation in Israel today, where Palestinian Arabs may have lived in the land of Israel for centuries — “unlawful acts, performed long enough and with sufficient vigor, are never enough to amend the law.” And that is so.
To those who claim that “peace” is their ultimate and only goal, a goal that they claim will be irreparably damaged by any possible Israeli annexation in Judea and Samaria, let me say this: no peace was ever achieved by capitulation on core values and principles. One can fiddle around at the edges, compromise for a time on matters of central importance, but ultimately your cause — and your integrity — will shrivel and die unless you take decisive steps.
From the outset of the Zionist project, the primary objective has been to resettle Jews in the biblical Land of Israel, and to establish the Third Jewish Commonwealth, in preparation for the Messianic Age — all in line with countless prophecies that the Talmud teaches us were prophesized for the End of Days.
In Parshat Pinchas, we encounter an incident so shocking and yet so decisive, that it resulted in the spiritual and physical salvation of the Jewish people.
Pinchas, despite his lineage as the grandson of Aaron the High Priest, was a minor member of the Levite tribe. But when he came across the sight of a public official flagrantly breaching God’s law by publicly engaging in a lewd act with a princess of Midian, at a time when an epidemic was raging through the nation killing thousands, Pinchas leapt into action and assassinated him.
Curiously, rather than being arrested for murder, he was lauded and praised. God went as far as to inform Moses that it was as a direct result of Pinchas’ act that He had halted the plague, and He was therefore granting Pinchas the “covenant of peace.”
The commentaries all puzzle over this “covenant of peace” idea. After all, of the many ways one might describe Pinchas’ zealous act, “peaceful” would certainly not be the first adjective which springs to mind. But that is exactly the point. Decisive action leads to peace, and not just ordinary peace, but a “covenant of peace” — endorsed by God Himself.
If Israel annexes Judea and Samaria — land that has belonged to native Israelites for over 3,000 years, notwithstanding all the other nations who may have occupied it since then — it will be nothing less than an act of Pinchas, a decisive final act that will ensure that we all benefit from God’s promise of a “covenant of peace.”