Numbers 25:10-30:1

1 Kings 18:46-19:21

This week’s parsha picks up on a negative note. G-d is angry with the people of Israel for worshiping false idols, which results in the outbreak of a plague. In an attempt to placate the situation, Pinchas, the son of Elazar, murders Zimri, the leader of Simeon, and Cozbi, a woman from the Midianite people as both Zimri and Cozbi have sinned. His mission was twofold, Pinchas wanted to punish these two offenders while avenging G-d’s anger towards the rest of the Jewish people.

Pinchas’ zealous act is enough to silence the plague and G-d’s anger. In return, G-d commands the Jews to smite the Midianites for their sins and G-d offers Pinchas a covenant of Peace, one which will be inherited by all of Pinchas’ descendants.

G-d’s decision to reward Pinchas in this parsha seems controversial and is discussed at length. At first glance, I struggled to agree with G-d’s decision to praise this violent act by rewarding Pinchas with a covenant of peace. Pinchas cites halachah as his reasoning behind the murders to show that his violence was justified given the situation. Contrary to my initial opinion, Pinchas was indeed justified in this act as he ceased the plague and acted for G-d's sake thereby saving many people.

The danger that comes from this is the idea that if people will be rewarded for heinous acts of violence in the name of G-d. Unfortunately, this is a phenomenon that occurs too often today. It is argued that Pinchas’ actions were justifiable given the circumstances, which are completely different than any given terrorism scenario today. Therefore, Pinchas did not set a precedent for unnecessary violence and one cannot justify his/her violent actions using this story as evidence.

What’s interesting about the way this parsha is physically written in the Torah is that when G-d talks about the Brit Shalom, or covenant of Peace, that is given to Pinchas, the “vav” in Shalom is broken. This could be to insinuate that peace achieved through violent measures is not a complete peace. Alternatively, the word “shalom” written without the vav is “shalem,” which means wholeness or perfection. Therefore, the broken vav could also indicate both the presence and absence of vav, which offers Pinchas both peace and wholeness, two things the Jewish people are constantly in search of.

Blair Gorenberg, a Chicago resident, is a senior at Case Wesstern Reserve University in Cleveland, studying speech pathology. She is a graduate of Chabad at CWRU's Sinai Scholars Society.

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