Some thoughts for parshat Pinchas

DSC_0372 Pinchas is the Bible's great zealot.  Last week we read how in a fit of zealotry, he killed a couple who were engaging in public very naughty behavior by skewering the two of them with his spear.

There are those who say this is a time for Israelis to be more zealous, to be more like Pinchas, to rise up and defend ourselves in the most vigorous possible fashion.

I wrote a response to someone who said just that — it's a little bit of a "vent," but I thought it's too good a vent not to share…so here you go:

I understand how people living in America – especially rabbis – can feel passionate about Israel and want to comment about what’s going on here.  I certainly publicly shared lots of opinions about Israel while I still lived in the US.  

However, now that I’ve made aliyah, I have to say that I’m bothered by people who from afar call for things like “Pinhas zealotry.”  I’m the one who has to live with the consequences of Israeli chutzpah and stupidity. 

If “Pinhas zealotry” is called for, it’s called for in moderates being as passionate about their position as the extremists.  It’s certainly NOT a time to pick up spears and skewer anyone who offends our sensibilities.  It’s time to be less “righteous” and more “wise.”  It’s time to realize that a dinky country like Israel can’t take on the whole world.  1,941 years ago our ancestors thought they could take on Rome.  They were wrong.  

We can be “strong” and find ourselves an international pariah.  We can be “strong” and find that we have no allies left.  We can be “strong” and find ourselves subject to a REAL Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions campaign that could cripple our economy, and put many of us out of work.  

Or we can act in a more intelligent fashion, let the world see that Hamas is the problem, not Israel.  The Shalit family should organize marches to Gaza, not marches to the Prime Minister's residence.  Hamas is the one holding their son prisoner, not Netanyahu.  We can try and make friends with countries like Turkey instead of turning them into enemies.  

We’re not going to be able to bully our way to peace.  We’re going to have to negotiate our way to peace.  We’re going to have make territorial compromises for peace.  We’re going to have to act a little more humble and a little less self-righteous if we want peace.  

The problem is not the morality of the IDF.  The IDF is, indeed, one of the most moral fighting forces in the world.  The problem is our political leaders need to stop putting our troops into situations where they have to face those difficult decisions, like whether to fire on an apartment building where gun fire is coming from, but where there are also a lot of innocent civilians.  The problem isn’t the IDF, it’s the politicians.  

It bugs me when people sitting in comfort in America call on Israelis to “kick ass,” when we’re the ones who will have to live with the consequences of stupid behavior.  It bugs the hell out of me when some guy in Brooklyn calls on us to defend the settlements to the last of drop of MY children's blood, not his children's blood.  

Sorry for the venting.  Maybe it’s partly because I just came from taking my family on an outing to Castel–a site just outside Jerusalem where many fierce battles were fought during the War of Independence. At Castel I saw a monument listing the names of the men killed in the battle for that small patch of land.  Life is precious.  I want my kids to live in Israel at peace with her neighbors, including a Palestinian state. We need to be more like Aaron — bikash shalom v'rodef shalom — seek peace and pursue peace — not more like Pinhas.

Shabbat shalom,

Reb Barry


Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

3 thoughts on “Some thoughts for parshat Pinchas

  • July 3, 2010 at 8:07 am

    Hello Reb Barry –
    Long time no speak! But when discussions get really heated – and when I get really heated – I turn to your blog for a dash of wisdom and reason. 🙂

    I was thinking about the was you used “strong” between quotation marks [in We can be “strong” and find ourselves…]. I can’t help but think of what it means to be strong. Display the biggest muscles? Use the big guns?
    We had this hadith that went something like “the strong is the one who can apply strength – but refrains from doing so”.

    I couldn’t help but remember how some people believe that any compromise by Israel will be viewed as a sign of weakness – and vultures will jump on the chance, each taking a bite of the ‘weak’ Israeli body. Their conclusion: Israel must maintain a constant display of physical strength over the populations it controls, lest an act of kindness or justice be interpreted as weakness.

  • July 3, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    Hi Mohamed, nice to hear from you. Delighted that I’m a source of wisdom and reason!

    Your quote from the hadith reminds me of a teaching we have about flying: The superior pilot is the one who uses his superior judgment to stay out of situations that would require the use of his superior skill.

  • July 7, 2010 at 5:59 am

    Whatever is sure that first peace and Shalom shall exist between the Israelis to themselves (Religious – non-religious. Left-right) and later with the neighbors, providing the neighbors want peace which is not certain at all.


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