This week we meet one of Torah’s more challenging and interesting portions. Pinchas speaks to issues of transition (Moses to Joshua), ritual issues and is most famour for the discussion on inheritance; a discussion that features the Daughters of Zelophechad. These women petition to allow their father’s “estate” to pass to them, given the fact there were no male heirs. (27) There is a series of discussions in the tradition around this passage that I am sure you will meet in Torah study this Shabbat.
But let’s return to the beginning of the passage and the actions of Pinchas. This portion really is a continuation of the last week’s portion Balak. An Israelite and a Midianite woman are together. They are described as engaging in sexual acts.The people again fall into idolotry. God is angered and a plague ensues. Pinchas,angered at the actions of these two and seeing them as the cause of plague, rises up and takes matters into his hands, grabs a spear and kills the two offenders and as a result, the plague ends. Pinchas is rewarded with a brit shalom, which is translated in the Plaut commentary as a “pact of friendship” (p.1194) and the same in the Etz Hayim (p,919). Pinchas murders two people, acting on his own. He is rewarded as God’s anger is assuaged as “he has turned back My anger from the Israelites by displaying among them his passion for Me” ([25:11]). The commnetaries wrestle with the act of Pinchas. Did the idolotry of the Israelites (an on-going theme) justify his action? Where was Moses? Is it Ok to sacrifice the few so the many may be saved? And what was this “pact of friendship” anyway (the phrase does appear a few time sin the Bible) as the Hebrew literally means “covenant of peace”. Pinchas, as a result of his action, lives his life under divine protection.
Anger is a powerful force. Pirke Avot reminds us not to make decision in the throse of anger or to try and console someone in the midst of this emotion. Decision made in anger are usually not for the best. Part of our own maturity is learning how to control that anger. We are seeing this now in the pandemic. So much isolation has led to increases in depression and a type of slow burning anger that can consume and destroy our soul. Rather than lashing out (as we have seen in some circumstances), tradition asks us to acknowledge this emotion and seek means to control it and, perhaps, turn that feeling into constructive uses. We can look back on our life and see when we acted out of anger and what the consequences were.
As we have discussed, we are seeing a creative rush in the field of prayer and ritual in these times. Rabbi Pamela Wax has written on this Torah portion and has described a small meditation to be used as we begin to feel overwhelmed by anger and frustration. Look at this small prayer/meditation and see how it may speak to each if us. “May it be Your will that any anger I feel or express be used only for constructive ends and in service to just causes, May my anger lead, ultimately, to greater humility, wisdom and justice. May I be called to account for any anger that is used for destructive or self-serving ends. May any anger I feel or express be held in balance with love and compassion for all humanity and offered with purity of motive. Amen” (p. 257-258. The Mussar Torah Commentary. CCAR Press.)
Rabbi Richard F Address