Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Law Come To Get You If You Don't Walk Right (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - Tennessee Jed)

As parents, we generally want to protect our children, and shield them from all rot and garbage that is in the world. Other times we want to expose them to the rot and to the garbage because it is, as a professor of mine used to say, “an educationally pregnant moment”.  This past week, there was, unfortunately, one of those “educationally pregnant” moments, that, God willing, our children and people can learn from. While our children and much of the Jewish world was struggling with the discovery that the three Israeli teenagers had been murdered, and mourned the three at their funeral,  a gang of Israeli teens found and murdered a Palestinian boy a day or so later.  During the course of the investigation rumors abounded, many hoped that the perpetrators of that second evil were not Jewish.  When we discussed it with our children, they couldn’t imagine a Jewish Israeli could have done such a thing. Neither for that had matter can many of our friends. I explained to my kids, and friends that people are people. When people live with enough hate, when people think of their enemy as “other” as “not human”, when people think that the government is weak or that the laws don’t apply to them, well bad things happen, vigilante justice becomes acceptable.  I told my kids about Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing, I told my kids about Yigael Amir and the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin. I told my kids about the dangers of a mob seeking vigilante justice – I told them about the Scottsboro Boys, and Leo Frank. Every people, every country has its own examples of vigilantism. However I reminded them that the real question is how the vigilante is treated. Is he/she a hero or a villain? A sinner or a saint? We can tell a lot about the society based on how it views the vigilante.
This Shabbat we read from Parsha Pinchas. Pinchas came to our attention last week when at the conclusion of Parsha Balak, he through a spear at Zimri the son of the head of the Tribe of Shimon (one of the Twelve Tribes) and a Cozbi, Midianite princess while they were co-habiting. At the time, there was a plague that was wiping out B’nai Yisroel because of their relationship with the Midianite women, and worshipping the Midianite/Moabite God Baal Peor. Pinchas put an end to it by killing Zimri and Cozbi. God tells Moshe to reward Pinchas for his behavior by giving him the Brit Shalom, the Covenant of Peace. This covenant is only for Pinchas and his descendants. Keeping in mind that B’nai Yisroel has now concluded it 40 years of wandering in the wilderness and are poised upon the eastern bank of the Jordan River; a new census is taken. Just like we needed to know how many left Egypt, we now need to know how many will enter into Eretz Canaan. After the census is taken Moshe must judge a legal case concerning the laws of inheritance when a man has only daughters. This brief narrative is about the “Daughters of Tzelophchad, and they make the case that they should inherit their father’s tribal lands. Following this narrative, God commands Moshe to teach the new generation the laws for time bound offerings including the Shabbat offering, the Rosh Chodesh offering, the offerings for the Shelosh Regalim (Three Pilgrimage Festivals etc). Then God also tells Moshe Rabeinu that his time as leader and in fact his life is quickly drawing to a close and that he should put his affairs in order and name a new leader (27:12-18). Joshua becomes the designated future leader.
The narrative regarding Pinchas, compared to the rest of the Parsha is very brief but also quite troubling because of the apparent reward that God bequeaths to Pinchas.  Pinchas Ben Elazar Ben Aharon HaKohen Heishiv et Chamati Mei’Al B’nai Yisroel B’Kano et Kinati B’TOcham V”Lo ChiLiTi et B’nai Yisroel B’Kinati – Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aharon the Kohen, tuned back My wrath from upon the Children of Israel, when he zealously avenged My vengeance, among them, so I did not consume the Children of Israel in my vengeance. Lachen Emor Hinneni Notein Lo et Briti ShalomTherefore, say: Behold! I give him My covenant of peace. V’Haitaha Lo U’LeZaro Acharav Brit Kehunat Olam Tachat Asher Kinei Leilohav VaYiChaPeR Al B’Nai Yisroel – And it shall be for him and his offspring after him a covenant of eternal priesthood, because he took vengeance for his God, and he atoned for the Children of Israel. (Num. 25:11-13) Certainly on a superficial level, it appears that because of Pinchas’ zealous defending of God and God’s Torah, he receives something, a Brit Shalom. The fact that Pinchas receives anything suggests that he is rewarded. Certainly that it will not be through his lineage that the Kohen Gadol derives also suggests that he has received a reward. However what exactly is a Brit Shalom? Is it a reward? Is it a prize? Is it a type of Band-Aid? Is it a form of protection? Is it a spiritual salve or medicine? Is the Kehunah (the position of High Priest) really a reward? Or perhaps it is a rather heavy responsibility which will forever tamp down upon the zealousness that runs deep inside Pinchas? However in the narrative, Hashem is speaking to Moshe and telling Moshe how he should respond to these troubling events. The sages in the Jerusalem Talmud state that Pinchas act of vigilante justice did not meet the approval of Moshe or the elders. In fact they wanted to excommunicate him until the HaKadosh Baruch Hu stepped in and said that the line of Pinchas would be the line of the Kohen Gadol. Rather the NeTziV (Rabbi Naphatali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin 19th Century Poland and Rosh Yeshiva of the Volozhin Yeshiva) explains that the Brit Shalom, was not given to protect Pinchas from those wishing to avenge Zimri’s murder, nor was it a reward for the purity of heart that sages explain was necessary to ‘defend Hashem’. “In reward for turning away the wrath of the HaKadosh Baruch Hu, He blessed Pinchas with the attribute of peace, that he SHOULD NOT BE QUICK TEMPERED OR ANGRY ANYMORE. Since it was only natural that such a deed as Pinchas’ should leave in his heart an intense emotional unrest afterward, the Divine blessing was designed to cope with this situation and promised peace and tranquility of soul.” This one controversial act shouldn’t turn Pinchas into some type of cold blooded Jihadist who commits atrocities in the name of God. By becoming the eventual Kohen Gadol, he would have to pursue peace and compromise like his grandfather Aharon. Pinchas’ passion would have to be channeled away from vigilantism and directed towards the understanding the intricacies of the law and sacrificial offerings.
So Pinchas wasn’t rewarded per se. Instead he would be a reminder that Judaism abhors vigilantism. Judaism doesn’t celebrate when Jewish vigilantes hurt others; they mourn. They don’t give candy to children when innocents are kidnapped and murdered, they give out condemnation. They do not praise the importance of Jihad either expressed externally (by hurting others) or internally (the constant testing and placing the soul into turmoil) rather as the Netziv points out, the object is for the soul to exist in a state of peacefulness not turmoil, completeness and wholeness, not torn apart only to re-emerge as some type of cold and unfeeling holy warrior. Yes our children now understand that Jews are just as susceptible to feelings of vigilantism and vengeance. Some may actually succumb to those feelings. Some may even teach that those feelings are valid and should be acted upon. However, both those who teach it and those who act upon those feelings are beyond the pale of Judaism, Jewish law. I hope that my children do not have to be confronted with any more such “pregnant educational moments”. However if they are, I pray that they will remember this lesson.

Rav Yitz

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