Parasha Inspiration – Balak

וַיֵּ֥שֶׁב יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בַּשִּׁטִּ֑ים וַיָּ֣חֶל הָעָ֔ם לִזְנ֖וֹת אֶל־בְּנ֥וֹת מוֹאָֽב: וַתִּקְרֶ֣אןָ לָעָ֔ם לְזִבְחֵ֖י אֱלֹֽהֵיהֶ֑ן וַיֹּ֣אכַל הָעָ֔ם וַיִּשְׁתַּֽחֲו֖וּ לֵאלֹֽהֵיהֶֽן: וַיִּצָּ֥מֶד יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לְבַ֣עַל פְּע֑וֹר וַיִּֽחַר־אַ֥ף יְהֹוָ֖ה בְּיִשְׂרָאֵֽל:

Israel settled in Shittim, and the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of the Moabites. They invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and prostrated themselves to their gods. Israel became attached to Baal Peor, and the anger of the Lord flared against Israel.

Numbers 25:1-3

In this week’s Torah portion we have the story of Pinchas and Zimri. Israel had begun to engage in rampant sexual immorality that led to worshiping false gods. The Hebrew term commonly translated as worship, actually means to bow down or prostrate. The Moabite women were convincing Israel to worship, to bow down to, their false gods. Hashem’s anger was aroused and a plague came upon Israel.     

Zimri brazenly took a Midianite woman into his tent right in front of Moses and the entire congregation. Pinchas, a Kohayn, was enraged. He took a spear, and went in after Zimri and the Midianite woman. He skewered them both through the stomach and then the plague ended.

Implicit in the story is the idea that just has Zimri had brazenly acted in front of Moses and the entire congregation of Israel, Pinchas also acted brazenly in front of Moses and the entire congregation of Israel. In other words, Zimri sent a message to Israel, and Pinchas sent the counter message. Zimri’s message was clear, it is perfectly fine to engage with foreign women and become influenced by them to worship idols. Zimri highlighted a practice that Israel was already engaged in, and sought to legitimize it. Pinchas sent the opposite message. This practice of engaging with women and being influenced to worship idols was wrong and needed to end. So, Pinchas openly killed Zimri and the plague ended. Message received.

It is important to understand that Pinchas acted after Hashem had brought the plague to the entire congregation of Israel. This was not a matter of Pinchas individually hearing from HaShem. This was a matter of Israel hearing from Hashem and not paying attention. Pinchas acted after Hashem had made the issue perfectly clear to Israel. Zimri sought to legitimize the problem, so Pinchas acted. Hashem indicates that Pinchas’ action was right and just, therefore, the plague ended. To this day we describe someone who is acting hypocritically as behaving like Zimri while wishing to be rewarded like Pinchas. Shabbat shalom.

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Rabbi Steven Bernstein

Steve was born on Lag B’Omer in Ann Arbor, MI but was raised in Gainesville, FL. The son of two University of Florida professors, he excelled in the sciences in school. In addition to his normal academic studies, he pursued his Jewish education studying with many Rabbis and professors of Judaic Studies from the University including visiting Rabbis such as Abraham Joshua Heschel and Shlomo Carlebach.