Torah Portion: Pinchas B’midbar (Numbers) 25:10-30:1

HafTorah: I Kings 18:46-19:21

Tonight we read the Torah portion Pinchas. The incident which began last week ends in the opening verses of this week’s portion. We read where Pinchas is rewarded for his actions with a covenant of peace and an everlasting priesthood. All of this brings up questions. How would you describe Pinchas? Fanatic might come to mind. How do we normally look at fanatics? We don’t think positively of them especially when they are religious fanatics. We have all heard or been taught that religious fanaticism is to blame for much of the evil in the world today, and is the underlying cause of many or even every conflict around the globe. Think of ISIS, Boko HaRam, Al Quida to name but a few. And yet here we see it rewarded. How do we reconcile the two? Now think for a bit about Zimri and Kosbi. They may not seem all that strange today. We live in a time when boundaries are being constantly re-examined and changed, sometimes publicly. In the 60’s we had free love, today marriage is fast becoming old fashion or no longer needed.

Faith is under siege everywhere. We constantly hear what a utopia we would enjoy if faith became a thing of the past. There would be no more war. We could all live in peace together. Yet this view is flawed at the outset. In the 20th century more than 260 million souls were lost because of wars that had no connection with faith. Socialism in Russia, Nazism in Germany, Communism in South East Asia, all of these conflicts were started by governments that had their roots firmly planted in atheism or paganism. For the most part these were movements who were adamantly opposed to faith or religion of any kind.  Even in the current conflict in Israel Hamas is not driven by their religion as much as it is by blinding hatred for Israel.

When we look deeper we see that at the dark heart of wars and conflicts is the desire to control others, economically, politically and socially. This is a clear picture of our desire to impose our will on another person, nation or world.

Here we come to where faith actually can be the solution and not the problem. Our faith should draw boundaries, what is acceptable and what is not. It should set out the right and wrong path and have the expectation that we live by those values. Faith calls us to see all men as being formed in the image of G-d, with worth and value, and we being able to exert self-control, to value the other person. We are taught that the real battle lies not with our neighbors but within ourselves. Eph. 6:12 we battle against those powers that seek to control us to cause us to disregard the law and will of G-d. Proverbs 25:28, Gal 5:22-23, II Peter 1:5-7, Proverbs 16:32; I Peter 4:7. How we live will influence the world. When Balaam looked out across Israel and could only say in Numbers 24:5 How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings O Israel. He saw a nation that just by how they lived showed self respect, respect for others, and harmony. He saw boundaries, lines you do not cross. Those boundaries served as the basis for community and unity.

However we often see the breaking down of boundaries, the feeling that “anything goes.” Zimri and Kosbi are familiar to us because we see them everyday. And the tragedy is that they influence us rather than the other way around.

Here is where the fanaticism of Pinchas comes in. He stood up to the wrong he saw and saved Israel from the plague G-d had unleashed. We must be ready to take our stand in our homes, community and nation. The secret is how to go about it. We also must show love and grace to people. Most people do what they do from ignorance. They do not know any better. We can be that person who brings the light of G-d into their life, not by yelling the loudest but by having a life that can be described as, “How goodly are our tents.” This is the only way we change the world. But we must take a stand in our own life first.