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Rabbi Feingold's D'var Torah


Balak - 7/18

Zimri, Cozbi, and Phinehas:  It sounds like the name of a law firm, but these are actually three biblical characters in a subplot at the end of Torah portion Balak.  Israelite men had engaged in idol worship while in the land of Moab and had taken up with women of that pagan culture.  One such couple, Zimri and Cozbi, publicly flaunted their relationship, and Phinehas was so riled up about it that he took the law into his own hands and murdered them both.  We are told, as Balak comes to and end, that his “honor killing” quelled a plague among the Israelites. (Num 25: 1-9)  In our world, the vigilante killing of those who break the rules of a community is something we condemn.  Surprisingly, the opposite occurs here. Phinehas is treated as a hero and receives God’s “brit shalom,” covenant of peace, in next week’s parasha.   Perhaps Phinehas is honored for acting to prevent wrongdoing in his community, when others failed to act.   But it hardly seems an act of “shalom.”  Or maybe the “brit shalom” was offered to Phinehas to help him curb his zeal to lash out against those he thinks are wrong.  Whatever the explanation, the story is a challenge for our ethical principles.

Sun, July 21 2019 18 Tammuz 5779