This week’s Torah portion is one of my favorites, because it reveals something very important about the very nature of God, and the way God sees us as humans vis-a-vis the written law of God, the very Torah that He gave us from Mount Sinai.
First, let us line up what the reading of this week will be in Jerusalem. Pinchas (Phinehas) is the reading from Numbers 25:10-29:40. It is a long reading of nearly four chapters.
The Haftarah (the reading from the prophets) is from 1 Kings 18:46-19:21. Another great reading from God’s Word, the story of the aftermath of the events on top of Mount Carmel with Elijah and the prophets of Baal.
From the New Testament we will be reading from John 2:13-25.
The portion of Phinehas can’t be understood without the background from the previous Torah portion of Balak (the reading from Numbers 22:2-25:9). The story of Balak is really the story of Balaam, that famous sorcerer with a famous international reputation.
He was commissioned by Balak the king of Moab to provide a curse against the children of Israel. He had a conversation with the Lord and was forbidden to curse Israel. However, Balaam didn’t want to lose the reward that Balak offered him for cursing Israel.
The angel of the Lord appears to Balaam on the way, and Balaam didn’t see him. Balaam’s donkey saw the angel and tried to warn the old magician, but Balaam ignored the warnings of the donkey, until the donkey started to talk to Balaam in human language.
When Balaam couldn’t curse Israel, he gave Balak advice that would be foolproof to bring Israel down. Balaam’s advice was to send the beautiful Moabite women to entice the Israelite men with their bodies and sex.
This is where this Shabbat’s Torah portion begins. Our reading starts with these words:
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the children of Israel, because he was zealous with My zeal among them, so that I did not consume the children of Israel in My zeal.’” — Numbers 25:10,11 [NKJV]
What is the Lord speaking about? In the end of the last Torah portion we read about this horrible event that ensued as a result of Balaam’s advice to Balak the King of Moab.
Zimri the prince of the tribe of Simeon was having sex in public with Cozbi – the princess of Midian. Not only did this couple have sex in public, but the whole thing happened at the very entrance to the Tabernacle of the Lord, in the holiest place in the middle of the camp of Israel.
Here is what the leadership of Israel, including Moses himself, were doing while watching Zimri and Cozbi having sex in the entrance of the Tabernacle of meeting, as an affront to the Lord God of Israel Himself.
Moses and the leadership of Israel were in shock and just stood there watching what Zimri and Cozbi were doing, having no idea what to do to stop this shameful behavior. The leadership of Israel was just standing there impotent, crying and doing nothing to stop this public abominable sin.
Here comes Pinchas (Phinehas), a young man without a specific job, without authority from Moses or from anyone else. Phinehas sees the helplessness of the older leadership and takes the law in his own hands:
“Now when Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose from among the congregation and took a javelin in his hand; and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her body. So the plague was stopped among the children of Israel.” — Numbers 25:7,8 [NKJV]
Phinehas took the law in his own hands and killed Zimri and Cozbi, in public, before the eyes of Moses and the elders of Israel. He pinned the pornographic couple of abominable sinners to the ground, through and through, and killed them both with one stroke.
If such a thing would happen in the Israeli army today, and a soldier would kill a terrorist without permission from his superior officer, he would very likely end up in jail.
In this very clear case of Phinehas taking the law in his own hands, and killing both Zimri the prince of the tribe of Simeon, and Cozbi the daughter of the king of Midian, God doesn’t punish Phinehas for taking the law in his own hands. On the contrary, God rewards him and makes Phinehas the chief of Israel’s army.
This is why I like this Torah portion so much. It is not a Torah portion from which Christian preachers preach very much.
This Torah portion encourages men of courage and wisdom to take action and take the law in their own hands when the so-called elected leadership and authorities are not sure or unable to take action.
When it is time to think outside the box. When time is at a premium, and action is necessary immediately. When there are old leaders who are honored and respected, but young and unseasoned leaders have to take action first, and be willing to bear the consequences later.
Yes, it is true that this Torah portion encourages men of God to take action when the leadership and those in authority are lost, and have no courage or vision to do what is needed, because it is not written in the books of the law!
We and our world are still not over the consequences of the coronavirus and we have seen the leadership of our countries and of the world at a loss of what to do in order stop the pandemic, and the damage to the people, and the economies and industries of countries and continents.
The spiritual situation of the world has also been affected, as the old and traditional churches and synagogues have all been affected and damaged by the events of the coronavirus.
Our world is still in the middle of the adjustments and changes that this pandemic has created in the lives of billions of people across the whole world. To bury our heads in the sand and act like all is well, and sing songs in church, taking communion, getting especially dressed to go to church on Sunday, is all right and good and wonderful, but as Robert Zimmerman (Bob Dylan) said in his song, “the times, they are a-changin’”.
(Did you know that Bob Dylan became a disciple of Jesus, and was baptized by Keith Green, a Jewish disciple of Jesus and a great evangelist and musician?)
We might not be in the place of Moses or Aaron. We might not be in the top leadership of our countries, but we can make changes in our small circles.
We can and must break out of the box that is called “church” and step up to do what we can do as individuals. We can step out of the normal church behavior and challenge the status quo.
And when we see that something needs to be done, don’t ask, just do it. When you see that a brother or a sister is in need of food, don’t ask permission from the pastor, or from one of the elders. When you see a needy person, remember you are the good Samaritan, God had mercy on you and gave you an opportunity to do good in His name.
We can take personal initiative and look at every opportunity to do what is right and good because God knows that you can do it. We can be like the priests or the Levites and just on walk on by and say, “this is not my job”, or we can be like Phinehas, and take the moment as an opportunity to do what our leaders don’t do.
Take the opportunity that God gives you, and do what is right and good and righteous for the moment. The changes can be small, and local.
You, We, are called to be the leaven in the lump of dough. We are commanded to be the light of the world. We are commanded to share the bread of life. We are commanded to be the light in the darkness of our world.
The easiest are the social changes inside our community. There should never be a lonely old sister or a brother who is in need of social interaction that has to go to another church or club to find friendships and fellowship.
Take care of the widows and the orphans, and if you don’t have orphans or widows, take care of the lonely and old, and do small things that have a big effect on your surroundings.
Increase the the family of God’s children. Because the times, they a-changin’!
This article originally appeared on Netivyah and reposted with permission.