The Parsha, the Process and the Promised Land
Thoughts on the Weekly Torah Reading Relating to Current Events

by Michael Freund
(first posted on Arutz 7)


Parshat Pinchas

1. Peace Through Strength
At the end of last week's Parsha, the Jewish people arrived at a place called Sheetim, where some of them began to commit acts of sexual immorality and idolatry with Moabite women. G-d was angry at their sinful behavior and a lethal plague then struck, killing 24,000 Jews. A prince from the Israelite tribe of Shimon by the name of Zimri son of Salu committed a particularly vile act by publicly engaging in sexual relations with Cozbi daughter of Zur (a Midianite woman whose father was a prince of Midian) in full view of Moshe, the elders and the Jewish people. At the sight of this act of depravity, Pinchas (the grandson of Aaron the High Priest) took a spear and killed the two offenders, bringing about an immediate end to the plague. At the beginning of this week's Parsha, G-d praises Pinchas' act. The Torah tells us: "G-d spoke to Moshe, saying: 'Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aaron the Priest turned back My wrath from upon the Children of Israel when he zealously avenged my vengeance among them… Therefore say: I hereby give him My Covenant of Peace…'" (Chap. 25, verses 10-12).

The Question:
What is the meaning of the "covenant of peace" granted by G-d to Pinchas?

The Answer:
The Kotzker Rebbe, Rabbi Menchem Mendel of Kotzk (1787-1859), says that much of the world mistakenly thinks that peace means to concede to those who are stronger or more forceful. But the truth is, says the Kotzker Rebbe, that peace achieved through inner weakness cannot last. True peace comes through a prolonged struggle, one without any displays of frailty. Only peace achieved through strength, which may entail suffering and even pain, will have the fortitude to stand firm, never to fail or collapse. We see, then, that the covenant of peace granted to Pinchas signified his strength of character and determination, thanks to which the plague was ended and peace restored for the Jewish people.

The Lesson:
In recent years, many Israelis fell prey to the temptations of a fast and easy peace, one that was based on a seemingly simple and straightforward solution - yield to Palestinian demands across the board in exchange for promises of tranquility. After a bruising, century-long conflict between Jews and Arabs, the determination and resolve of many Israelis were battered and weakened, leading them to consider compromising on Zionism's most sacred tenets, such as reclaiming and settling the entire Land of Israel. But weakness only breeds contempt, and Israel's foes were quick to sense the deterioration in Israel's tenacity, which only gave them an incentive to make further demands on the Jewish state. To achieve peace, Israel must begin by reaffirming its sense of national purpose and meaning and it must be willing to demonstrate the courage of its convictions, regardless of how others may react. Adhering to one's beliefs may often involve painful dilemmas, but there is simply no alternative. As the past eight years of Oslo have amply demonstrated, yielding on matters of principle is no recipe for reconciliation. We saw above that Pinchas was granted the covenant of peace because he did not shy away from standing up for what he believed in. The fact is that peace can only come about not when we must say "yes" to all of our enemies' demands, but rather when we are strong enough to tell them "no".

2. Looking Forward to the Temple
The Parsha devotes two chapters (Chap. 28 and 29) to the various sacrificial offerings that are to be brought in the Temple on the Sabbath, the New Moon and the Festivals. Before describing these offerings, the Torah discusses the daily Tamid, a sacrifice that is to be brought twice a day (in the morning and afternoon) every day. It says: "G-d spoke to Moshe, saying: Command the Children of Israel and say to them: My offering… you shall be careful ("Tishmeru" in Heb.) to offer to Me at its appointed time" (Chap. 28, verses 1-2).

The Question:
What is the meaning of the verse "My offering… you shall be careful ("Tishmeru") to offer to Me at its appointed time"?

The Answer:
The Sefat Emet, Rabbi Yehuda Leib of Ger (the second Rebbe of Ger, 1847-1905), says that the word "Tishmeru" can also be understood to mean awaiting and anticipating something, as it does elsewhere in the Torah. We can therefore read the verse to mean: "My offering… you shall anticipate (or: look forward) to offer to Me". Thus, says the Sefat Emet, even when the Jewish people are living in Exile, they can fulfill this verse by eagerly anticipating the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem and the restoration of the sacrificial service there. Through such anticipation, says the Sefat Emet, we become partners to the sacrifices brought by our ancestors when the Temple was still standing. Hence, the verse is emphasizing for us the necessity to yearn for the Temple's return to Jerusalem.

The Lesson:
As modern Jews living in the 21st century, it may be difficult for us to feel the lack of a Temple in our lives, or even to comprehend the meaning behind its rituals. After all, how does one miss something that he personally has not experienced or known in his own life? Nevertheless, we saw above that hoping for the return of the Temple to Jerusalem must not remain in the category of a distant, visionary wish for the future - rather, it is a central element in Jewish theology and belief, and must play a part in every Jew's daily consciousness. The media and others often portray Jews seeking to renew Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount as extremists, castigating them as apocalyptic troublemakers and agitators. Leaving aside the complex halachic (Jewish law) and even political issues involved, what the media and other critics fail to understand is that the longing for the Temple is an essential component of mainstream, traditional Jewish thought.
Our prayers are filled with repeated requests to rebuild the Temple and our ritual nostalgically reenacts many of its customs. Three times a day, every day, when a Jew completes the Shemoneh Esrei (the central prayer of each service), he does so by asking G-d: "May it be Your will, our G-d and the G-d of our forefathers, that the Temple be rebuilt speedily in our days and that you grant us our portion in your Torah, and there we shall worship You in awe as in days of old and in previous years." At this time of year, in the weeks leading up to Tisha B'Av (the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, the day upon which both of the Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed) it is especially important to bear this lesson in mind.
Though various reasons are offered as to why the Temples were destroyed, one can make a good argument that a key factor in both cases was the failure of the Jewish people to fully appreciate the sanctity and uniqueness of having G-d's House among them, perhaps because they started to take it for granted. If indeed it was a lack of appreciation that caused us to lose the Temple, then our best chance of regaining it is to redouble our desire for its restoration, which can be accomplished by praying and hoping for its imminent return. Though some people may regard such sentiments as extremism, the fact is that they have a different, far more accurate name: Judaism.

Michael Freund served as Deputy Director of Communications and Policy Planning in the Prime Minister’s Office from 1996 to 1999. He is currently an editorial writer and syndicated columnist for the Jerusalem Post. Comments/Feedback/Subscribe:

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