The Excess of Zealotry

“God spoke to Moses, saying: “Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aaron the kohen [priest], turned away My wrath from the children of Israel with his zealotry for My sake . . . Therefore . . . I shall grant him My covenant of peace . . .” [Numbers 25:11–12].

I find myself highly distracted this week by the events in Israel.  We have family living there about whom we worry; friends and colleagues who are there for various study and travel, hundreds of kids from Reform congregations on their trip of a lifetime to Israel, to connect with and understand their own personal connection to our homeland.  I am worried, troubled, angry, frustrated, feeling helpless.  My prayers are also with the Fraenkel, Shaer, Yifrach, and Abu Khdeir families.

Zealotry is defined as fanatical devotion. Pinchas’ deed evokes many associations—courage, decisiveness and religious passion are several that come to mind—but peace hardly seems one of them.

The zealot often covers his own weaknesses and self-doubt by attacking others. That is why the people of Israel questioned the motives of Pinchas in killing Zimri.  Pinchas is protected because God grants him a covenant of peace. Why does God call for this? I struggle so much with this story, this episode in Torah. It doesn’t matter how much the commentaries try to massage the text and find a reason, a lesson, an explanation…

No matter the reasoning, I can’t get my head around why God would call for this. Isn’t there another solution? This is one of the times when I look at Torah and think that this moment is to challenge us to think differently, perhaps to learn and discern when to disagree with what is taught to us. That is just as important a life skill as learning from positive models of behavior and understanding. It is all I can think about.

[Pinchas 2014]




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