Parashat Pinchas: Numbers 25:10 to 30:1

For Shabbat, July 7, 2023

Before we discuss the story of Pinchas, and his zealous pursuit and attack on Zimri (which saved the Israelites from a plague), I must refer back to last week’s Torah readings, which included the sedrah known as Balak (Numbers, chapters 22 to 25). Balak was a foreign king who employs the pagan ‘navi,’ or prophet, to carry out his wishes and curses upon the Israelite people. This is one of the very few Torah portions named after a non-Jew. The story of the prophet Balaam’s work is famous because of the incident focused on the “talking donkey.” King Balak employs Balaam, a noted seer, to curse the people Israel. In his travels, Balaam’s donkey sees an angel in the road, and refuses to walk forward, despite the imprecations of Balaam. The donkey protests, and finally Balaam sees the angel of the Lord for himself.  The angel commands Balaam to do only that which the Almighty commands him to do. As we know, ultimately the false prophet blesses the Israelite people, despite all the protests from his king.

The story of Pinchas raises the difficult question: is he a dangerous fanatic or a hero of faith? We know that Pinchas killed Zimri, from the tribe of Simon, as well as Cozbi, daughter of Zur. There seems to exist an inherent contradiction in this saga, as Pinchas benefits from his actions, despite the reality of the commandment, “you shall not murder.” Join us this Shabbat for our Torah discussion, as we delve into this complex story.

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