At the end of this week’s Torah portion we read of the heroic act of Pinchas who rose to protect and honor G-d and his commandments in front of the entire Jewish nation. Pinchas killed Zimri, one of the tribal leaders of Shimon and the Moabite princess he was cohabitating with.
Next week in the Torah portion of Pinchas, we learn that Pinchas became a Cohen – a Jewish priest — as a reward from G-d for his bravery and zealousness in protecting the Honor of the Torah Law and G-d.
What was so special about Pinchas’ act of killing Zimri that warrants such a reward? A reward never again gifted to any of the great leaders of our nation?
Some might read the story and conclude that Pinchas was a zealot who overreacted in a quest for fame and stardom. Or perhaps he was emboldened to act knowing he would achieve hero status.
It is one thing to care for the Torah Law, to teach and lead and even to reprimand when one is of the greatest stature in the room, but to jump up and act in the presence of Moses, Aharon and the Jewish Elders? This must have been a power trip or an attempt at showing how great he was, better than all the others.
But this was not Pinchas. Pinchas was truly acting for the honor of G-d.
Before last names became a thing, and certainly in biblical times, people were known by their father’s name: Jacob son of Isaac, Joshua son of Nun. But when the Torah tells us who Pinchas was, it says Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aharon the Cohen.
Our sages learn from the additional lineage listed that Pinchas was a man of character similar to his Grandfather Aharon. Aharon the Cohen loved peace and pursued peace and was the humble sidekick to Moses, totally dedicated to G-d and the Torah. Pinchas was happy and content being a student, one amongst the crowd, striving to be the best he could. Yet, when it comes to a desecration of G-d and the Torah, Pinchas leaves his comfort zone in order to stand up for what’s right and to stop a travesty from wrecking our young nation.
We all can be like Pinchas.
In today’s world of social activism and wokeness, oftentimes the easy choice is to sit out the discussion and avoid the limelight. Some even hide their Jewishness so as not to be outed for being so old-fashioned and out of the times.
On Tuesday, the 12th of Tammuz commemorated the release of the previous Chabad Rebbe from his brutal imprisonment in the former Soviet Union. His crimes were continuing to follow the ways of the Torah and ensuring that his followers continued to teach and impart the eternal Torah values, including the sanctification of G-d’s name, despite the risk of imprisonment and death. My great-grandfather, Rabbi Berel Kabilaker Hyd, was one of those followers who ultimately sacrificed his life to ensure the continuity of Torah and its eternal values.
We can all be Pinchas, we can all dig into our strong heritage and eternal Torah to stand up for what G-d says is right and not be drowned out by the voices of opportunism and popular opinion. It might not be the easy choice, but the Torah and its values have survived 3,000 years of persecution and hate, and it still lives strong.
When you are presented the choice, will you leave your zone and stand up to sanctify G-d, our Torah and our heritage like Pinchas? JN
Rabbi Dov Levertov is director of the Chabad of Phoenix.