Saturday, July 03, 2010


Balak-Pinchas Blogging

Why did Pinchas act? According to Midrash Moses "forget the laws", Aaron was a man of peace and Eliezar, as the High Priest couldn't come into contact with dead bodies.

And what was Pinchas' "reward"? To become the high priest ... which means that he could no longer do what he did. So did God really approve of Pinchas' zealotry? Or would it have been better for Pinchas to "forget" the law in the interests of peace? Is discretion not only the better part of valor but also morality? And is sometimes violently promoting moral purity something that makes one impure? Do the pure really need to enforce purity?

I ask these questions in light of the Midrashic explanation that Balaam and/or Balak instigated the events at Peor because Israel could not be undermined from without but only via taking Israel off the straight and narrow path of Halacha. Today there is a lot of concern, and justifiably so, about how the State of Israel will survive in the face of formidable enemies.

But our history tells us that in the face of even horrid persecution we survive. When we face real peril is when we betray our own moral principles. Is the real threat to Israel her external foes or her reaction to those foes -- to retreat into a state of siege in which Israel forgets her moral purpose?

And my reason for bringing up Pinchas here is that too often we think of morality in Pinchas' terms. But maybe Pinchas is part of the problem here? Today Israel's so called guardians of morality actively sow seeds of disunity amongst the Jewish people as they would even attack Rashi's daughters for wearing T'Fillin and declare Ruth to not even be Jewish. They discredit Judaism and drive people away from Torah by making Torah into an impossible burdon.

Is it any coincidence that we read parshas Pinchas right around the time of the Fast of Tammuz -- the first breach? And that the next Haftarah is often one in which Jeremiah points out that our so-called guardians of morality fail when they don't ask "where is God?" Not that they fail by not considering God in their actions -- but by thinking they know where God is when they do not.

The Temple fell last time, according to Talmud, not because of Rome per se but due to senseless hatred. And also, it must be said, due to a too stringent insistence on ritual exactness (otherwise Vespasian's sacrifice would have been accepted even after the animal was subtly mutilated).

So if Israel does, Hashem forbid, "fall" -- what really must have gone wrong? Was it Israel's enemies? Was it those of us on the left who are accused of giving aid and comfort to said enemies? Or would it have been Israel's so-called supporters and the so-called guardians of morality who, for all their talk of Halacha, don't really care if Israel goes down a particularly dark and un-holy path in its pursuit of an always elusive security. Who does our tradition say is most dangerous: the external threat or those who have a misplaced zealotry?

Remember that the Hasmonians' (who began as a zealous group) actions eventually bit the whole Jewish people in the ass.

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