The line between principled commitment and unbounded zeal is, as this week's Torah portion indicates, one that must be carefully monitored. An Israelite named Pinchas takes it upon himself to execute another Israelite and his pagan romantic partner for an illicit liaison. What follows next in the Torah text is peculiar: God is imagined as bestowing a "covenant of peace" and a line of perpetual priesthood on Pinchas.
At first read, this would seem to be a reward for his zealous actions; and if so, the story could be used (or abused) to legitimate illegal actions that presumably become permissible if done "in the name of God." The
killing of doctors
who provide legal abortions is one example of such a vulgar and violent justification.
I am indebted to my wife Barbara for her insight that the covenant of priesthood bestowed on Pinchas is perhaps not a reward, but rather a boundary; the "covenant of peace" is a way of isolating and neutralizing a renegade. The community learns that due process through legitimate legal channels is required, no matter how deep one's commitment to a given principle.
Religion as a social force can be analogized to language: neither is inherently good or bad, it is the way in which each is used that determines whether they strengthen or subvert. At this time in our country, the impulse to individual acts of zeal increasingly receives social, political, and, regrettably, even religious sanction. The story of Pinchas is a welcome reminder, and a timely lesson, that when, as the biblical Book of Judges says, "each person does what is right in his/her own eyes," we are at risk of seeing the unravelling of the social fabric and the system of law that is designed to support it.
We are delighted to
welcome Cantor Rhoda Harrison
to M'kor Shalom, as she joins me in leading our 6:30 pm
Kabbalat Shabbat service
this week, also available through our
. Following the service, we will share a
of welcome with Cantor Harrison.
will convene at 10:00 am on Shabbat morning.
Rabbi Richard Hirsh
If you wish to have a Mi Shebeirach said during our Shabbat services, please let us know by noon each Friday so we can give the names to the rabbis.