When do you mind your own business and when do you take action in your society? This is a predominant question as we go through this week’s Torah portion.
At the end of last week’s reading, Balak and Bilaam implemented their Plan B for the destruction of Israel. Unable to curse the Israelites as Balak wanted him to do, Bilaam devised another plan: get the women of Midian to seduce the Israelite men and introduce Baal worship into the camp, thereby assuring Israel’s destruction.
In the beginning it seemed to work. Many were seduced and actually began to be ‘attached’ to Baal. The wrath of Hashem flared and a plague struck the Israelite camp. Hundreds and then thousands were dying.
In the midst of this enters Zimri, a tribal leader, who flagrantly escorts a Midianite woman into the camp right in front of Moshe and all of the people and proceeds to have intimate relations with her, defying Moshe but in truth, defying Hashem.
Pinchas, seeing that Moshe has not immediately acted, takes his spear and kills Zimri and the woman, whose name was Cosbi. The plague is averted and the nation is saved.
In our day, society pays a heavy price for the treasured value of freedom. Why? Because we don’t want to live under tyranny. Freedom of the individual can only be restrained when there is a clear and present danger to the community at large.
On a personal level, we can only preserve our own freedom to express ourselves if we agree to tolerate and/or accept other peoples’ expressions of themselves.
So then, did Pinchas violate Zimri’s “individual freedom”? Should Pinchas have “minded his own business”?
Clearly, Pinchas saved the nation from Hashem’s wrath. Hashem declares in the following verses that Pinchas expressed His (Hashem’s) wrath and executed His venegeance on Zimri’s rebellion.
There is a key verse in Devarim/Deuteronomy 29:28 that addresses this dilemma: “The hidden sins are for the Lord our God, but the revealed sins are for us and our children forever, to carry out all the words of our Torah.”
The Sages declare that had Zimri rebelled privately, without making a show of his defiance in the face of Moshe and the people, he would have been among those who perished in the plague if he refused to repent. Hashem would have dealt with him personally.
It was the fact that he publicly and brazenly sinned, in open defiance, that brought public and open reprisal. “…the revealed sins are for us…” to deal with. When a leader or a person of renown falls into sin, the public humiliation is part and parcel of the punishment incurred, for a leader carries greater responsibility to be a role model of righteousness.
When an individual sins privately (their sin is unknown to the general population), according to the verse quoted above, Hashem deals with that individual, calling him to repent and be forgiven.
It is not up to any of us to be ‘Torah police’ who randomly go looking for reasons to accuse and condemn others, often on the basis of our own suspicions that may well have no basis in reality.
But what of the Torah command that we are to reprove our brother if we see him (or her) going in a spiritually harmful direction?
To effectively introduce correction into a friend’s life, certain factors must be in place:
1) your relationship with that person must be of such a nature that you have, in a sense, earned the right to speak very personally into their lives
2) you must search your own heart first and make sure that you are approaching them in an attitude of true humility with no desire whatsoever to embarrass them, or to feel superior to them
3) you must approach the other person with the conscious hope that there may be other circumstances or issues involved in their particular situation that makes what appears to you as “wrong” actually acceptable, and at times even virtuous!
4) it behooves you to introduce the conversation with a question and not with an accusation. Perhaps you have indeed misjudged the other person and by asking a harmless question, you may save the friendship and avoid embarrassing yourself as well!
We learn several things from Parshat Pinchas.
**Public transgression brings public reprisal.
**Individual, private transgressions are first a matter between Hashem and the transgressor.
**If we perceive a need to address an issue with a close friend or family member, it is incumbent upon us to approach them with the humility of a Moshe and not the zealous impulse of a Pinchas.
It is important to note that in Hashem’s ‘reward’ to Pinchas, there is a vital message, a gentle rebuke. Hashem awards Pinchas a ‘covenant of peace.’ It only takes a little thought to realize that one of the greatest needs of any “Zealot” is inner peace which will help him or her to nurture patience and compassion towards others, instead of quick and harsh judgment. In essence, Hashem is saying to Pinchas, “Yes, you saved Israel at this time from destruction but I don’t want you to thereby determine that swift and violent reactions to future situations are My way. I want you to learn patience, forebearance, compassion – things you can only apprehend by embracing peace in your soul.”
Violence is not Hashem’s weapon of choice – what He desires is repentance.
In Tune with Torah this week = Hashem is patient and merciful to the thousandth generation of those who love Him. We are made in His image and called to reflect His ways. How are we doing in light of this week’s meditation?