This week’s portion describes the reward given to Pinchas for his murder of the sinning couple at the end of the last week’s portion.
We moderns have a problem with this and of course so did the Rabbis, essentially for the same reason. Pinchas commits a murder – an extra-judicial killing – and is then rewarded for it with an everlasting covenant of priesthood for his descendants. Surely he should have been punished for not taking the case to trial? The issue is one which we ourselves face in our day. How do we deal with terrorists when we have evidence that they are in terror networks, but to try them would not be possible?
The situation has different possible solutions. In Pinchas’ day, he does the forbidden to prevent the forbidden – he kills, and prevents the transgression thereby preventing God from killing many more Jews. He had no time to deal with the legality of the act. The Rabbis call this “eit la’asot la-hashem” - a time to do what is necessary for God.
The latter half of the portion details all the different offerings to made at different times of the year – daily, Sabbath, monthly and festivals as they occur.
I have often wondered why these are in Pinchas’ portion. What is the connection between his reward and these sacrifices?
Aside from the obvious fact that he was now promised that he would be the practitioner of these sacrifices, I believe that there is another lesson to be learned from his association with our system of sacrificial offerings. When a person says that they are religious, we often ask ourselves what that means. Does it mean that the person goes through the motions and is outwardly religious, showing the signs as a medal to display their worthiness? or is the person a really religious person with the ideals and ethos of the religion permeating their existence? The practice of religious virtue is not through the mechanics of prayer, offerings or motions, but through the way we treat others and look after them. It is about how we deal with our fellow-man in our daily lives, and how we ensure that our religion permeates our deeds outside the home and the synagogue, far more than inside.
This Shabbat Pinchas may you embody the spirit as well as the practice of those special Jewish virtues.
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Rabbi Zvi Solomons
The only Orthodox Rabbi in Berkshire