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Home Columns View from Denver Did Pinchas the Zealot win or lose?

Did Pinchas the Zealot win or lose?

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IN this country we have learned that it is not enough to win the war.

Did we win the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam or South Korea? For my purposes here, that’s moot. “Wars” are too big to comprehend.

Individual soldiers are not.

Even if they were heroes, even if we did win the wars in which they fought, individual soldiers may have lost.

Today we speak of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD.

We regard it as scandalous if the government does not afford appropriate and timely treatment for PTSD. We sometimes witness terrible crimes committed by people whom we sent off to war but neglected upon their return.

Earlier, we didn’t have a psychological definition for the disorientation, divorce, aimlessness, suicide, joblessness or crime that befell many who returned from war. Whatever the overall outcome of the war, and however brave a given soldier may have been, he may have lost the war personally.

WHAT happened to Pinchas, the zealot who struck down the immoral leaders of the Israelite idolaters in the Sinai Desert site of Shittim? However one understands Pinchas’ spontaneous act of zealotry, G-d praised him for it.

Pinchas seems to have won the war. The Divine wrath, the plague against the sinning, idol worshipping Israelites, stopped. The rush to idolatry — worship of the idol, Ba’al Pe’or — was quashed.

But what about Pinchas the person? Pinchas the returning soldier? However praiseworthy his act of bravery, how did it affect his stability, his inner peace?

The third verse of this week’s Torah portion provides the clue:

“Therefore say: Behold I [G-d] give him My covenant of peace.”

What kind of peace was that?

Rashi (1040-1105) says that the covenant of peace was a commensurate reward: the priesthood.

Pinchas, though a son of Elazar the High Priest, was born before the priesthood became hereditary. Pinchas’ younger siblings became priests, but not he. Now, however, in reward for Pinchas’ act of zealotry, he and his descendants were also given the priesthood.

It was a commensurate reward. By killing the leaders of the immorality and idolatry in ancient Israel, Pinchas brought Israel atonement. For this he was rewarded with the priesthood, which permanently brings Israel atonement.

Alternatively, ibn Ezra (1089-1164) comments that the Pinchas’ “covenant of peace” was protection against revenge by the family and friends of Zimri, the immoral Israelite whom Pinchas killed. As my friend Carl Tessler puts it, Pinchas would hereafter not need to engage in any more acts violence. He was vouchsafed peace.

But what about Pinchas the returning soldier?

Pinchas the human being?

He killed two people up close.

How did he survive this, internally, mentally, behaviorally?

Netziv (1816-1892) comments:

“Because of the nature of Pinchas’ act — to kill another human being with his own hand — it was natural for Pinchas to remain emotionally on the knife edge.”

It was natural for Pinchas to suffer PTSD.

Netziv continues:

“However, since Pinchas’ motives were for the sake of Heaven — were untainted by human bias or animosity — the blessing he received [the covenant of peace] was that he would be at peace with himself forever after.”

Pinchas’ was rescued from PTSD.

Copyright © 2014 by the Intermountain Jewish News

 

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