Skip to content

Parashat Pinchas 5776 — 07/30/2016

Parashat Pinchas 5776 — 07/30/2016

Vayikra 25:10-30:1

The opening of our parashah, in which Pinchas is lauded for his zealousness, actually refers back to the end of the previous parashah, where Pinchas takes a spear and kills a prince of the tribe of Shimon who is slaking his lust with a Midianite princess in a very in-your-face manner (the text is a bit sparse, but the Midrash fills in the gory details). For this he gets a “covenant of peace,” although the letter vav in the word peace (shalom) is traditionally written broken in the middle, indicating that even though Pinchas restored “peace between Israel and their Father in Heaven,” the peace was somehow incomplete or tainted. In these days of mass murder in the name of religion, it is important to understand the meanings of zealotry and of peace.

This leads us to the question of the role of zealousness (kin’a) in religious experience. What does the Torah mean when it says that Pinhas “was very zealous for My sake” (Num. 25:11)?

There are two types of kin’a that appear in the Torah, which are often connected and intertwined. The first is jealousy, when one wants to be like that person in some way. The second type of kin’a is zealousness. When one is zealous for someone’s sake, it means that one bears some strong emotion toward that person. For example, in the case of the sota’s husband [the sota is a woman who is suspected of adultery] we read that “a spirit of jealousy (kin’a) came over him, and he expressed feelings of jealousy (kinei) about his wife” (Num. 5:14). This kin’a about one’s wife can be interpreted not only as “jealousy” but as zealousness.” This zealousness is rooted not in hatred but in love; it comes from the attribute of hesed, not from the attribute of gevura. …

Zealousness for someone stems from the attribute of love. The attribute of love has several levels. There is the level of affection, where one is happy to have a certain thing, but he does not long for it or seek it out. When it goes beyond this – when there is an intense longing and desire when that thing is lacking – that is a sign of a higher degree of love. One who loves something, whether it is a beverage, money, or anything else, feels a void when it is not beside him. …

There is an even higher spiritual level: the level of kin’a. One who is truly zealous not only loves something but cannot bear the fact that others can possess it as well. This desire for exclusiveness can sometimes reach a state where one cannot love two things at once.

Kin’a – the feeling of total commitment and exclusiveness – is rooted in love, not in hatred. … The attribute of love, from which the Priest stems, assumes various aspects, forms, and modes, and there are times when it cannot restrain itself. Hence, the same Elijah who says, “I have been very zealous” also reconciles parents with their children and children with their parents.

We normally think of jealousy as a negative thing, and when it means envy, especially of a violent kind, it is. When a jealous lover is possessive and controlling it is certainly not a good thing – it is not even love in any significant sense of the word. And it is certainly not possible to control or possess Gd! What the does it mean that Pinchas was zealous for Gd?

What Pinchas was reacting to was faithlessness on the part of the Israelites with the Midianite women. These women would seduce the men, which was bad enough, but would also insist that they worship the Midianite deities as their “payment.” So the Israelites were faithless both in respect to worshiping Gd exclusively, and to obeying his commandments to refrain from sexual immorality. It was this faithlessness that Pinchas couldn’t tolerate, because of his intense love of Gd.

Now we have reached a very delicate point. In retrospect, Gd gave his hechsher to Pinchas’ actions, via His prophet Moshe Rabbeinu. But to evaluate the action of a zealot, we must be able to evaluate the level of his love of Gd. This is something that none of us is in a position to do. In fact, the great majority of us cannot even evaluate the level of our love for the person who is nearest and dearest to us – one day we’re perfectly happy with them, the next day some little thing annoys us, or something in the environment throws us off and we react negatively.

The problem is that our own consciousness is not steady. This is something that we all experience. We are not one-pointedly focused on the task at hand at all times. Our knowledge is not sure. Our outlook is not steady. We are like a leaf in the wind, battered by everything in the environment, not even sure who we are nor how we fit in. In such a situation, it is no wonder at all that we can evaluate neither the things outside of ourselves nor our own internal state. However, this situation is not one that we need live with permanently.

As we have discussed on many occasions, physical creation is structured in layers – molecular, atomic, subatomic. Underlying all these layers is, we believe, one unified field whose various modes of vibration we observe as all the particles and their interactions – in short, all of creation is a very complex mode of vibration of this unified field. Yet the unified field itself never changes – it only expresses itself. In the same way, our mind has a layered structure. We are generally only aware of the surface values of thought. Sometimes, in our quiet moments, we experience a thought developing from subtler, quieter levels of the mind. At the basis of the thought process, as at the basis of the physical world, is a field that expresses itself as thought, but itself does not change. It is completely steady, “like a candle in a windless place.”

In Hebrew this steady state of awareness is called hishtavut / “equanimity” from the root shin-vav meaning “equal.” It is all the same to us what external conditions are, or how others react to us. We simply play the hand we are dealt in the best possible way. In the same way Ramban writes (Iggeret haRamban): It emerges that all is equal (shaveh) before the Omnipresent. The differences between the different waves on the ocean are irrelevant, almost unnoticeable, in contrast to the vast ocean itself.

If we are able to function from this level, our thinking process will be rooted in something that is completely steady, and we will be able to get beyond our own individual likes and dislikes, our own agendas, both hidden and obvious. In such a state, everything we do is for the sake of Heaven. Since we have transcended our individuality and are operating from a universal perspective, our actions are influenced only by that which is good for all aspects of creation. For in truth, the problem of zealotry doesn’t stop with Pinchas, nor with your local suicide bomber. Every single action of every single human being, affects our entire surroundings, for good or otherwise. From the steady state of awareness, we can be sure that whatever we do is correct, even if, on the surface, it appears to be damaging. Pinchas presumably was on that level. The rest of us would be well advised to think twice before we act.

Haftarah: Yirmiyah 1:1-2:3

This haftarah is the reading for the next parashah, Matot. In most years parshiyot Matot and Masei, the last two parshiyot of Bamidbar are read together, as is the case this year. This is to guarantee that parashat Devarim is read on the Shabbat before the fast of Tisha B’Av. This year, Tisha B’Av is on Shabbat, and the fast is observed on Sunday (14 August). The three Shabbatot between the fast of the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av (the “Three Weeks”) are known as the “three [Shabbatot] of affliction” and the haftarot do not have to do with the theme of the parashah, but rather with the theme of the afflictions our sinfulness bring upon us, and the need to do t’shuvah and purify ourselves so we don’t keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again. This week’s haftarah is the first of those three. The seven Shabbatot between Tisha b’Av and Rosh haShanah are called the “seven of consolation,” and the haftarot of those weeks are all on the theme of consolation, rather than the theme of the parashah.

The theme of the haftarah is the initial call to Yirmiyah to his prophecy; like Moshe he initially demurs, feeling unworthy for the task. Unlike with Moshe, Gd is able to convince Yirmiyah fairly quickly to go and prophesy, giving him a promise of protection. Yirmiyah will have to rely on this promise later on, as he is thrown into a dungeon for “speaking truth to power.” Obviously he was not the last person in this boat. The “truth” he was speaking was the common theme amongst the prophets, especially in the years leading up to the Temple’s destruction and the Babylonian exile: the greed of the rich and their exploitation of the poor and vulnerable is unacceptable to Gd, and will result in the destruction of the Land and the exile of its people. This is clearly a message that all governments need to heed, as there doesn’t seem to be any place in the world that is free of the plague of greed.

When I was a telemarketer my sales manager told me that the salesman’s two most powerful tools were fear and greed. But truly, the two are one. Greed comes from the fear of not having enough, until accumulation of material goods and/or money becomes a complete addiction. And this fear of not having enough can only arise if the awareness is not steadfast in faith in Gd. Gd provides us each exactly what we need for our spiritual growth. It may not be what we think we want, but that is because our vision is limited and Gd’s is universal. When we reach a state of hishtavut then we are not thrown off by circumstances. We approach life fearlessly. We find no need to take, rather we are always looking for opportunities to give. This is the basis of ideal relationships and an ideal society.