Pinchas I

Parshat Pinchas by Ari Hart

In this week’s parasha, we read two stories of Jewish activism. The first is exciting, dramatic, and violent. A lone man, Pinchas, acting with decisive vengeance, ends the sexual immorality and idol worship happening in the Israelite camp by killing Kosbi and Zimri. The second episode of Jewish activism in this parasha is very different. In contrast to Pinchas, b’not zlofchad act in a subtle, deliberate, peaceful way. They aren’t inspired by abstract ideas or religious fervor, but their own needs for land and survival. Their activism uses sharp questions and proposed solutions to persuade those in power to change an unjust system. The question of the roles of zealotry and violence in activism is the subject of another dvar Torah. However, the juxtaposition of the two stories yields an interesting observation. If we look at what the results are of both the actions, we see two very different results. Pinchas’s actions are in many ways succesful: he is praised and held in high acclaim. He is remembered for eternity for his actions, his fame sealed with an eternal covenant. Bnot zlofchad, however, do not get such royal treatment. Their names are listed and their claim is deemed is righteous, but they do not receive the personal glory that Pinchas does. They have no eternal covenants. However, their activism is perhaps ultimately 100x more effective. Pinchas receives glory, but he does not ultimately change the wrong he sought to fix: sexual impropriety in Israel. Bnot zlofchad, on the other hand, effect the very change they are seeking to do, for eternity. Their request is not granted just to them, it is sealed into law for all women of all generations. In social justice activism, there is often a desire for fame, for quick results, for excitement and drama. And there is a time and need for these. However, one take away from this parasha is to remember that a more humble activism done in more anonymous groups, acting out of self-interest, can have even greater affects. Shabbat Shalom.