This week’s Torah portion is titled Pinchos, who was a heroic person.
Since the time of Noach, the inhabitants of the world had taken upon themselves a set of moral and ethical rules. These rules are referred to as the Seven Noachide Laws. Included in these laws is the prohibition of adulterous relationships. Until our Torah portion’s narrative, for the most part, societies adhered to and reckoned with these rules.
We saw in the last week’s portion that Balak, the King of Moav, fearing the Jews, made peace with his nemesis, the nation of Midyan. They hoped to combine forces in order to eradicate the Jewish nation. Recognizing that the power and effectiveness of the Jews was in their voices of prayer and study they decided on an unconventional way of dealing with the Jews. They hired the non-Jewish prophet, Bilaam, to use his voice to curse the Jewish nation. As much as Bilaam tried to manipulate G-d to allow him to curse the nation, he was not only unable to curse them, he actually was forced to bless them.
Balak was extremely disappointed in Bilaam for dashing his hopes to place a spell on the Jews.
In desperation, Bilaam gave the following suggestion to Balak. “I know the G-d of Jews abhors sexual misconduct and idolatry. If your women will entice the Jews to sin and get them to serve idols it would be the most effective way to have G-d punish them.”
Balak listened to Bilaam’s advice, and breaking the status quo of sexual morality, he instructed the women of Moav to entice the Jews to sin. They employed clever strategies to trap the unassuming Jewish men into a state of desire and then swayed them to worship the idol of Peor as well.
Aside from the Moavite women’s advances, Cuzbi a princess from Midyan was publically intimate with Zimri, a Jewish prince from the Tribe of Shimon. Zimri mocked Moshe by asking if the Midyanite woman was permitted to him. When Moshe said she was not permitted, Zimri brazenly responded, “Didn’t you marry your wife Tzipora who hailed from Midyan?” Although Tzipora had converted to the monotheistic belief of Judaism before Moshe married her, this was Zimri’s way of mocking and discrediting our leader Moshe.
Bilaam’s plan worked, and as a result, tens of thousands of Jews died, and then a deadly plague began spreading through the Jewish encampment.
Then Pinchos, a grandson of Aaron, recalled a law that everyone had forgotten, and taking action, he endangering his life by killing Zimri and Cuzbi.
At that point, the plague immediately stopped!
Because of Pinchos’ bravery G-d rewarded him with being inducted into the Priesthood. In doing so, G-d linked Pinchos’ lineage to his grandfather Aaron the High Priest, who was the ultimate seeker of peace. G-d also bestowed upon Pinchos the covenant of peace, because G-d knew that Pinchos acted on behalf of G-d’s honor, and not out of personal anger or honor.
Pinchos’ heroic act however was scrutinized. Some people ridiculed him calling him a hypocrite because his own mother was a descendant of Yisro who was a Midyanite and had worshiped idols before joining the Jewish people. They taunted Pinchos saying, “Who are you to stand up and make such a statement through a deadly action? After all, you too, have blemished roots.”
Let’s take a moment to reflect on the mindset of the ones that mocked Pinchos. There was a rampant plague quickly spreading through the encampment causing the death of 24,000 people. The moment Pinchos performed this heroic act the plague immediately stopped, so it was obvious to all that Pinchos stopped the plague. Yet the mockers disregarded the benefits of his actions and found some baseless fault in him. They obviously had an agenda and an axe to grind. It got to the point where G-d Himself had to settle the score by stating “Leave him alone, Pinchos is the grandson of Aaron the High Priest who was the true seeker of peace.”
Human frailty at times directs us to see the faults of others, no matter how minute they may be when weighed against the overall good qualities of the person.
The Torah recognizes this human failing and the Mishna in Ethics of our fathers teaches us to strive for personal refinement and improvement. “Strive to be the student of Aaron, by loving peace, pursuing peace, loving people and bringing them close to Torah!”