4 min read
This week's parsha (Numbers, ch. 25) describes an extremely unusual incident that seems to contradict much of Jewish ideals. Up until now, the Torah has praised love of fellow man, righteousness, resolving disputes, etc. Yet here is an episode where Pinchas, a minor player in the hierarchy of the Israelites, seemingly takes the law in his own hands, kills one of the leaders in an act of zealousy - and instead of being rebuked, he is elevated in stature by God.
Not only that, but he is given the "blessing of shalom," peace. What's peaceful about what he did?
The "slayee" had done some pretty bad things, and flaunted it in public. But does that really justify Pinchas' actions? This seems to violate the standard Torah law that if a person deserves the death penalty, they need a court case, witnesses, etc. and then a punishment is meted out with the court's supervision. Nowhere do we see the idea of vigilantism or personal justice like this.
The story of Pinchas teaches us something about the Jewish idea of destiny. Every human being is designed by God with character traits, talents and surroundings that help mold the person. Although "it's a free country," we really should examine ourselves carefully to see if the Almighty had anything particular in mind when He created us. What pursuits do I enjoy? What am I talented at?
Many people feel that the Almighty set them up in a position to fulfill a role or a profession. Nothing is by accident. As it says in the Talmud, "In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man" (Avot 2:6). This means that if you're in a situation where something needs to be done, and no one seems to be doing it, push yourself to do it.
Now certainly that doesn't mean we should always wait around and leave what needs to be done to others, and only if no one's taking care of it do we jump in. It's possible to suggest that what the sages mean is that if you're in such a situation, it's not an accident. You might just be fulfilling the unique role that you were given the tools for.
For Pinchas, it was the right time, and the right pace, and he stepped forward to meet the need of the moment.
In a Groove
Life is meant to include challenges, but there are also a lot of "grooves" at different times and places that we are meant to fit into. Sometimes things work out perfectly. Sometimes it's the calm before the storm, or a time to gather your resources for the next battle. And sometimes it's a pure gift of kindness from the Almighty.
In spiritual terms, life is like a battlefield. You can't wear out your soldiers in war; you have to give them food and rest in order for them to be their best. So too, in the upper realms, they devise areas of our lives to run smoothly, or time periods when we are not tested to our limits. This is expressed in a verse that is often quoted in kabbalistic sources, "The holy living angels ran and returned" (Ezekiel 1:14). We all have ups and downs; fluctuations in our spiritual growth. This is healthy and natural.
Often we feel that if only this certain problem would go away, then I'd be able to really address my spiritual growth. This is a mistake. If we are experiencing a particular challenge, it was designed for our growth. After Jacob finished a difficult period with the evil Lavan, and after he met Esav who wanted to kill him, he felt he had completed all his tests and now was ready to calmly devote himself to spirituality, character growth and Torah study. That's when his favorite son Joseph got taken away to foreign land.
Jacob was thrown into emotional turmoil. He wanted rest, but instead he got turmoil.
FATHER KNOWS BEST
We don't know what's best for us at all times. We need to constantly roll with the "punches" and let God, our Father in Heaven, decide what situations are best for our spiritual growth.
You can certainly try to put yourself into places that are conducive to the growth you want, but you always need to be willing to adapt to a different environment if that's where you are led. That just might be the challenge that fits your soul's needs better.
Think about two things are going well, and try to figure out why. Then think about two challenges you are encountering, and why.