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Just Reward

By: Ms. Sepha Sheinbein

This week’s parsha comes off of a horrible tragedy in the Jewish people. Prostitutes from Midyan had come in to seduce the Jewish men and ultimately get them to serve avodah zarah. After many people had starting serving the idols a plague broke out within the camp, killing thousands of people. At the same time a Jew names Zimri was sleeping with one of the women, Kazbi, in front of the ohel moed for all to see. Pinchas, Aharon’s grandson, immediately takes action-stabbing and killing the two of them, which miraculously stops the plague as well. When reading the story one assumes that G-d is clearly happy with Pinchas’s actions seeing that He stops the plague right after. That assumption is validated at the beginning of this week’s parsha when G-d says explicitly that He didn’t destroy the Jewish people because Pinchas was a “zealot for Me.” G-d continues to say that He is therefore also “giving” Pinchas a covenant of peace and covenant of the Kehuna forever.

But something about this never sat well with me. In Judaism we don’t believe we can take justice into our own hands. Even if we know that we are witnessing a crime we don’t get to exact punishment for it-we have a court system for that reason. So why is Pinchas being applauded for killing these two people? I think the answer is found in the “rewards” G-d gives to him in response. What exactly is a ברית שלום? There are many answers that range from inner peace, to peace protecting him from a family member of those he killed to protect him. But I think the answer that resonates the strongest with me is the concept of psychological peace. The Sefer Hachinuch explains to us multiple times the concept of אחרי הפעולות נמשחים הלבבות literally translated “our hearts follow our actions.” Which more simply means, we are a product of our actions not our thoughts. Every action we take has an effect on us, for good or for bad. Here Hashem is acknowledging that even if it was a good decision, the fact that Pinchas took the lives of two human beings will have a negative psychological effect on him. G-d therefore grants him the ברית שלום to give him a clean slate of peace to get rid of what just happened to him.

Rabbi Frand takes this idea further explain that the concept of a קנאי, a zealot. He compares a zealot to the concept of radiation. For someone who is G-d forbid very sick, the radiation can save them - killing the illness inside them. But it also kills good cells, and you don’t need radiation that it is only harmful. Therefore Hashem is sending us a very applicable message from this story. In this particular moment, what Pinchas did was right. He killed out the illness from the camp. But this is not a story we should internalize and try to repeat. Our actions have a huge effect on us and therefore Hashem had to “help” Pinchas past this after it transpired. We should not aim to be a zealot because it is a scary line to cross of negative actions that we can’t take back. We should each be so careful that all out actions are positive since we know the psychological affect is so great and we should only want to develop those positive traits within us.

Shabbat Shalom!




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