When to fear the powerful (Pinchas)
We should keep silent about those in power; to speak well of them almost implies flattery; to speak ill of them while they are alive is dangerous, and when they are dead is cowardly. -Jean De La Bruyere
It is a scene of chaos. Multiple Israelite men are being openly promiscuous with Moabite and Midianite women in the Israelite desert encampment in contravention of God’s laws. God, enraged, orders Moses to kill the offenders. The prince of one of the tribes of Israel, Zimri prince of the tribe of Shimon, goes so far as to publicly couple with a Midianite princess. Moses and the rest of the leadership are shocked into inaction by this display of open rebellion by one of the nation’s leaders. At the same time, a virulent God-sent plague is killing thousands of men in a matter of moments. Bodies are dropping dead left and right.
This is when Pinchas, the grandson of Aaron the High Priest, steps in. Pinchas takes a spear, and without preamble proceeds to skewer Zimri, prince of Shimon and the Midianite princess, Kozbi daughter of Tzur. The Torah tells us that Pinchas’ act stops the plague in its tracks, which reached an astonishing death toll of 24,000 during the course of the event.
God is effusive with his praise of Pinchas for his lone act of vigilantism. God promises Pinchas “a pact of peace.” A number of commentaries wonder as to the unusual if not ironic reward God promises Pinchas: peace as a reward for his violence.
The Bechor Shor on Numbers 25:12 explains that Pinchas might have thought he would have much to fear in terms of repercussions from the families of the prince and princess. These were powerful people and powerful families that he had pitted himself against. They had the means, resources and motivation to take revenge upon Pinchas. God is telling Pinchas that he will have peace; that these families won’t touch him or trouble him. God guarantees it. He is telling Pinchas that he was right to confront the evil head on and not worry at the time about the importance, position or power of the wrongdoers. Pinchas was in the right and God will protect him with an everlasting covenant of peace from tribulations of any vengeful relatives.
While it is wise to be wary of the powerful, may we always be on the side of right, no matter the power of those involved.
To the victims of the Surfside building tragedy. May the mourners be consoled.