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"For Instruction shall come forth from Zion, The word of the L-rd from Jerusalem." -- Isaiah 2:3


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NUMBERS — 25:11 jealous

Only someone with Ahavas Yisroel can be a kanoi (zealous for G-d's honor). The Torah traces Pinchos' lineage to Aharon, his grandfather. This is to teach us an important lesson. Only someone who is a true lover of the Jewish people, such as Aharon who loved peace and pursued it, can react with zealousness. Because Zimri brazenly committed an immoral act with a Midianite in public, Pinchos killed him. Pinchos' reaction might appear cruel, and could conceivably have been motivated by a tendency toward violence or by personal hatred. If one is a true Ohaiv Yisroel, however, as Pinchos was, we can be sure that he is motivated solely by his great love for the Almighty which transcends all other loves. (Rabbi Chayim Shmuelevitz). Rabbi Chayim of Brisk once said about zealousness: "Both the owner of a house and a cat want to destroy mice. The sole difference lies in their attitudes. The owner really wants to be rid of them. But the cat wants to have mice to attack. The same applies to protests against misdeeds. One must sincerely not want the misdeeds. One should not just use the misdeed as an opportunity to engage in protesting. (Bayos Hazman, p. 58)

NUMBERS — 25:12 covenant

In verse after verse, G-d tells us that revenge is to be left only to G-d. Even though normally Jews are supposed to imitate the ways of G-d (Deuteronomy 28:9, Nachmanides commentary on Deuteronomy 11:1), the realm of revenge is G-d's alone. Thus, it states in Psalms that vengeance and revenge belong only to G-d (Psalms 94:1). ... There is one place in the Torah where G-d does command the Jews to take revenge, and perhaps this exception proves the rule. When that Midianites confronted the Jewish people in the desert, it is the only time in the Torah when the Jews were attacked spiritually and not physically. G-d's name was publicly shamed. Therefore, it is possible that this is why only here G-d asked the Jews to avenge these actions and take revenge upon the Midianites (Numbers 31:1-2). In a related incident, Pinchas took revenge against the Midianite woman and Jewish man who were publicly fornicating as a religious act before the Ba'al Pe'or idol. Pinchas' action caused the plague that killed "only" 24,000 Jews to cease. G-d immediately praises this act of revenge by Pinchas, and rewards him with the covenant of peace (Numbers 25:7-12). But why is Pinchas praised for taking revenge, if revenge is the exclusive domain of G-d? The Talmud explains that, indeed, Pinchas was viewed by the Rabbis as wrong and sinful for taking revenge and for doing this act without receiving legal Rabbinic permission (Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 48b). It is for this reason that G-d had to "step in" and publicly declare Pinchas as a hero in this specific situation, before the Rabbis put him to death for his actions. But why did G-d praise Pinchas' action if revenge is not generally considered "Jewish" or in the domain of human beings? Once again, this exception proves the rule. Because in this instance G-d's name was being desecrated by the idol worship and people were dying as a result, Pinchas was correct to "take the law into his own hands" and avenge this sin against G-d. But in general, revenge is forbidden by Jews or by human beings.

NUMBERS — 25:12 friendship

Hillel and Shammai received the tradition from them [Sh'mayah and Avtalyon]. Hillel said: Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and drawing them near to the Torah. Pirkei Avot, Perek I, mishnah 12. We translate the Mishnah's words rodef shalom as "pursuing peace." But the verb rodef is often understood to denote pursuing with intent to destroy; in other words, persecution. In this vein, then, the passage would mean, "Love peace and persecute peace." Yet this is not at all paradoxical. Often times those who love peace may, for the sake of the Torah, have to be the ones who temporarily disrupt the peace. When one of the leaders of Israel defied Moses and publicly desecrated the name of G-d by committing gross immorality, Pinchas, a grandson of Aaron, was jealous for the L-rd and destroyed the evildoers. He certainly did not uphold peace in its conventional sense. He committed violence and bloodshed. Pinchas did not hesitate to disrupt the "peace" of compromise and appeasement. He refused to be tolerant of evil. Yet the Almighty's award to Pinchas was "Behold, I give him My covenant of peace" [this verse]. Without any hesitation Pinchas destroyed an unreal superficial peace to achieve a genuine peace: a harmonious relationship between G-d and Israel. This was "a war to end war." We find such occasions in life and in history. We must pray to the Almighty to give us the wisdom to recognize and judge these occasions correctly!

NUMBERS — 25:13 impassioned

The word zealous is defined in the dictionary as "filled with or inspired by intense enthusiasm or zeal; ardent; fervent." But the term zealot is also somewhat negatively defined as "fanatical or extreme adherence to a cause, especially a religious one." In The Biblical Hebrew, the same word is used for both jealousy and zealotry (Kana). In fact, the Greek origin for both words jealous and zealous is "Zelotes," which connotes "emulation, admirer, or follower." Are these two concepts connected? And if so, how? One commentary explains that zealousness is another form of positive jealousy -- jealousy for G-d, in which the zealot will defend G-d's name and honor whenever it is threatened (Pele Yo'etz on "Jealousy"). Pinchas is called a zealot by G-d (Numbers 11-13), as he is praised by the Almighty for killing two people who publicly worship idols, thereby desecrating G-d's name. Their actions brought about a plague upon the followers of the idol worship, while Pinchas' deed stopped the plague after 24,000 people were killed, and he is rewarded by G-d. Elijah is also called a zealot when he confronted the idol worshipers in his time (I Kings 19:10-14). Moses, too, was called a zealot by the sages, when he gathered the Levites to smite the three thousand idol worshipers of the Golden Calf (Midrash, Pesikta Rabbati 4:3). Like the jealousy describing G-d, it seems that zealotry on behalf of [G-d] in the Bible relates exclusively to idol worship. However, we also see that the commentators did not wholeheartedly support the notion of zealotry. Elijah seems to be castigated by G-d for being "too" jealous. In addition to the perpetual priesthood for all his descendants, Pinchas is given the gift of "Brit Shalom-Covenant of Peace." One modern commentary explains what this reward actually was and suggests that the quality of zealousness for G-d by Pinchas was appropriate in that particular instance, but only as a one-time act (Ha'aek Davar on Numbers 25:12). G-d was afraid that Pinchas might become emboldened by this action and use zealotry again in subsequent activities. G-d, therefore, changed the personality of Pinchas to make him a peaceful man (Covenant of Peace), never to use the trait of zealousness again. Thus, while zealousness and zealotry maybe appropriate in certain situations, it is not positive if it is an ongoing character trait. Later on in the Torah, when G-d commands the Jewish people to utterly destroy a city whose Jewish population was worshiping idols (Deuteronomy 13:13-17) -- an act of zealotry on behalf of G-d--the "reward" these destroyers received whs the gift of mercy and peace from G-d, to ensure that this would be a one-time action only (Deuteronomy 13:18).

NUMBERS — 25:13 jealous

R. El'azar haKappar said: Envy, inordinate desire, and [the search for] glory remove a man from the world. Pirkei Avot, Perek IV, mishnah 28. … Envy, strong desire, and honor can be constructive or destructive elements. But then the question arises: why does our Sage utterly condemn them? For our answer let us look again at the mishnah; we may find that the words denote both directions of interpretation. These three ways of perceiving or being, says our text, "remove, or rather, take a man from the world." But what is a man's "world?" It is his local area of day-by-day living; the ongoing normal, ordinary level of his life and activity. Once he is stimulated and impelled by such strong emotions as jealousy, desire, or the wish for esteem, he is jolted out of the level of the ordinary and the everyday. He is forced to leave his "world" as he knows it, for it will never again be the same. Such strong emotions bring inner revolution: he will now be catapulted into either the Divine or the demonic. It is as though a car receives a new surge of power which forces it to accelerate, so that the driver must leave the local lane for an express highway; but it is for him to choose the highway. Much will depend on the person's basic values. Does he find he is violently jealous by nature, little able to bear in others what he finds disturbing or threatening? Pinchas (Phineas) "was jealous for his G-d" [this verse]: when he saw flagrant immorality that others watched passively, helplessly, he took a violent action; but as the Almighty testified, "he was jealous with My jealousy," [ibid., 10; verses 6-8). And his action brought peace where disaster threatened. He channeled a destructive emotion into a G-dly purpose.

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