Torah portion: Pinchas, Numbers 25:10-30:1
Haftorah Reading I Kings 18:46-19:21
In this Torah portion we read the conclusion of the activities of the Israelites following their interaction with the Midianite women. In Numbers 25: 16-18 we read an interesting explanation of how G-d looked at the sins of immorality and idol worship. In these verses we read that these sins were viewed by G-d as being equally responsible for the plague G-d sent on the Israelites that took the lives of 24,000 people. As we have studied the Torah we have seen on many occasions that idol worship was the father of all sins. Nothing was looked at as being on the level of idol worship. I would like to share an explanation with you that might give us some answers to how here immorality and idol worship were looked at as being both responsible for Israel’s punishment. To do this I will draw from an article that I read this week by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin who serves as the chief Rabbi of the town of Efrat in Israel. In our society today we hear over and over that as long as we do not harm another person pretty much anything we do in okay if it brings us pleasure. The verses above give us an important insight that refutes that idea.
From our reading last week remember that Bilam, a seer of the first order, had been hired by Balak, the king of the Moavites, to curse Israel. He was unsuccessful in doing this because G-d changed his words of cursing to blessings in every case. However, when he saw he would not be able to curse the people he came up with another plan. He advised the king of Midian to send out his young women into the camp of Israel to seduce the men, and to eventually lead them into idol worship. This new plan worked very well. In fact one of the leaders of Israel, Zimri, a leader of the tribe of Simeon, took a Midianite woman by the name of Cozbi, the daughter of a leader of the Midianites and had sex with her in front of the Tabernacle of G-d. Pinchas, whose name this Torah portion carries, killed them both and thus stopped the plague of G-d on the people.
However, as a result of the interaction between the Midianite women and the Israelite men, the people of Israel were also led to worship the god of the Midianites, Pe’or. Here is where I think we can see the connection between these two sins. The main mode of worship for Pe’or was defecating before the idol. The worship of this god among the Midianites and Moavites was very popular even given this way of worship. Defecation was a perfectly normal human function and one where the person who relieved themself could feel genuinely relieved. Hence that was how this god was worshiped “Do whatever is natural, do whatever feels good. Self-expression takes precedence over everything else. That same thought was what would allow people to just have sex with whomever and whenever without any feelings of the right or wrong on the act. This stands in direct conflict with G-d’s word. Self-control and self-limitation, not eating the forbidden fruit, the defining of good and evil, these are the hallmarks of G-d’s will for His creation. We see order in all His ways, we are higher than an animal. We are created in His image.
Both sexual immorality and worship of this idol denied all that, we are free to do as we want where we want. Our society tells us that life’s goal is to be happy, and to do whatever makes us feel good. G-d word tells us that there are things that can be done, and things that must not be done. We have a responsibility to put G-d’s way above our way. We have a mandate to care about other people, to feed the hungry, to care for the downtrodden. It may come as a shock, but it isn’t just about us, it is about joining our lives to His and living a life characterized by morality, compassion and mercy. G-d is a G-d of order and his Word brings life.
We can learn a lot by giving this Torah portion some serious thought.
Shabbat Shalom to you all.