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Thursday, 27 June, 2013 - 3:46 pm

By Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman - Chabad of Peabody

Ok. I admit to you. I am an idealist. It would be hard not to be, in the line of work that I am. Are you? Is it so bad? Honestly now, how many of you wake up in the morning feeling strongly about something going on, in the family, the world of politics, religious matters, international issues etc.? How can we not? One would have to be apathetic to not care at all!

I am not suggesting that we go to Washington to lobby for our cause, or become a mercenary to fight the particular battle we feel ought to be fought, just raising the question, as a means of tickling your awareness about how much goes on around us, and then what we do, or perhaps more importantly, don't do about it.

In this week's torah portion we find an odd story that transpired last portion, and the benefit to the hero is highlighted in the beginning of this week's portion. Here is the story in brief. King Balak, after aborting the "curse the Jews" campaign, goes for the final option, at the advice of Balaam, to seduce the Jewish males into illicit relationships with the Midianite women, presuming (correctly), that causing Israel to sin, would upset G-d, as it were, and Israel's winning streak, militarily, and spiritually, would come to an end. 

In a public display of insolence (and spiritual failure), a leading member of one tribe and a Midianite princess sin publicly, and cause a plague to break out amongst the People.

The "hero", Pinchas, in an act of zealousness, literally puts a spear into the two sinners, and brings the plague to a halt, and earns himself the rite of Jewish priesthood.

Now, the interesting thing here is, that had Pinchas gone and asked Moses or any other Jewish legal expert what should he do? The law would have been, that killing is prohibited. Yet, he doesn't ask, he literally takes the law into his own hands, and is not only not rebuked or punished, but is actually rewarded for his efforts! Why is this?

The answer given by the sages, is that that there is a unique category within Jewish law (rarely applied so be careful when learning lessons from this story), that essentially says, kanoyim pogim bo, loosely translated, zealots can prosecute. I.E., there is a minor area in the Law, that says, if asked what to do, the Law leans one way, if however, no question is posed, and the person is so enflamed and engulfed in their passion for G-d and the sanctification of His name, the Law can go the other way, and they can take the law into their own hands, and they will not be punished. Furthermore, in a case such as this, where G-d was being shamed in a public setting, the zealot, was actually rewarded. 

To use modern lingo, there are rare cases, where one's idealism, as the source of their behavior, is more than just a good idea, but the idealism CREATES A NEW LAW & AND A NEW REALITY. Such as in this case, prior to the zealous idealism, it would have been prohibited to kill the sinners, and after the zealous idealism, it became a rewarded deed, to punish the offenders.

As it pertains to us and our lives, I cannot speak for when one should be SO idealistic about something, pull out all stops, and conquer or accomplish their goal, or forgo the inspiration, and just let things be; What I could say is, that we need to learn from Pinchas the "original zealot" to not be shy and passive, but rather, be emotional and involved. One must never let laziness, or apathy get in the way of their thought, speech and behavior process, one must always be cognizant of what is going on around them and do their best to heal that which need healing, and repair that which need repairing, and so on.

Have a wonderful week!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

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