Lessons from Pinchas
With all the talk about peace in the Middle East and in other regions around the world, the most important question of all must first be answered: What is peace? Does peace mean always laying down our arms and retreating? How do we distinguish between true peace and passivity or weakness? When does peace dictate no negotiations or compromises? Shalom (peace in Hebrew) means much more than absence of war. What is the deeper significance of shalom/peace?
Most of us identify zealotry as a radical and extreme force, equated today with terrorism, which has no redeeming quality. Yet, in this week’s Torah portion we actually find that a zealot is lauded and rewarded for his act, and he is granted nothing less than G-d’s “covenant of peace”!
What does this teach us about modern day zealotry and its dangers? Haven’t we learned our lessons over history of the grave destruction perpetrated in the name of G-d by religious extremists?!
The Baal Shem Tov explains Pinchas’ covenant of peace with a cryptic Zohar, which states that Pinchas redeemed the death of Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu, who were consumed by the “foreign fire” that they offered in the Temple. Why did they die, and what did Pinchas do to correct their mistake?
This story offers us extremely relevant and powerful lessons about peace, fundamentalism and extremists – and what we can do to address these explosive issues.