This week’s Torah portion opens with the aftermath of an act of violence that took place at the end of last week’s reading. Moshe’s leadership was challenged by a brazen act of public rebellion. The leader of the tribe of Shimon confronted Moshe by asking him, “Hey Moshe, is this Midianite woman permitted or forbidden to me? And if you are going to say, ‘Forbidden’, well, who allowed you to marry the daughter of Yitro (who is a Midianite)?!”
To graphically make his point he had relations with the woman right there and then in front of everyone. As if that wasn’t bad enough, to make matters worse it took place at the holy Tent of Meeting where God would converse with Moshe. Needless to say, this was not a date-night romantic interlude but an in-your-face challenge to Moshe and his position as leader and prophet.
Everyone witnessing it froze in disbelief until Pinchas rose up with spear in hand and killed the offending parties on the spot. It would be too lengthy to go into the details about the justification to take a life without a trial, and Jewish law is quite specific as to when and where one can react as Pinchas did. But what is most striking about the affair is God’s reaction to Pinchas’ actions.
Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aaron the Kohen has turned back My anger away from the children of Israel through his zealousness on My behalf (resulting in My no longer needing to) destroy the Jewish people in My vengeance. Therefore declare that I am giving him My Covenant of Peace.
God was quite upset and ready to punish the people for their indecisiveness and only because Pinchas arose and acted in such a raw and violent manner did God withhold Himself. As a result, God gave him His Covenant of Peace.
Now it seems strange that God would reward a Nobel Peace Prize to someone whose very name and association for all time is linked to an act of violence. That seems to be somewhat self-contradictory. When we think of Peace we think of compromise, reasoning, gentle persuasion, bringing parties together and everyone just getting along in kumbaya fashion. Not Dirty Harry “Go ahead, make my day” acts of vigilantism.
But the lesson here is that there are some times in the life of a nation when things get so out of hand that in order to correct the situation and bring it back to its rightful balance and equilibrium, force must be applied. When evil had raised its ugly head and isn’t backing down, thereby threatening good and law-abiding people and societies, heroes like Pinchas have to step forward and take necessary action to right the wrong.
The Hitlers of the world cannot be met with Neville Chamberlains giving away other people’s land and proclaiming “peace for our time” whilst waiving meaningless treaties not worth the paper they are written on. They must be met with the courage of Churchills who are willing to take up arms and lead and inspire others to destroy threatening enemies.
If evil is allowed to flourish and grow, peace will never be an option. Just as an aggressive operation on a body must be performed to bring it back to its healthy state, so too there are times when an aggressive act of war must be performed to restore the calm and quiet of a people and land.
This is what we witnessed this week with Israel’s just and rightful response at rooting out the source of many recent acts of terrorism from Jenin. Along with the many other times Israel has had to take up arms to preserve its security and welfare. Those who come to destroy good must be met with force, aggression and even war if need be.
We have always understood this in Jewish tradition. While we agree with other religions that refer to God as the “God of Love”, we also note every day in our prayers ה’ איש מלחמה that God is a Man of War.
There are times when those who represent Goodness, Truth and Morality have to take a stand and fight for its principles. Sometimes it’s the only course of action to achieve peace and thereby gain God’s Covenant of Peace. The people who have the courage to understand and take risks for this are few and far between. Many years ago Pinchas alone stood and fought for it. Today, Israel alone does the same. And just as Pinchas was awarded God’s Covenant of Peace, so too, one day, Israel will receive the same.
“We shall go on ’til the end
We shall fight on the seas and oceans
We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be
We shall never surrender!”
History recalls how great the fall can be
While everybody’s sleeping, the boats put out to sea
Born on the wings of time
It seemed the answers were so easy to find
“Too late,” the prophets cry
The island’s sinking, let’s take to the sky