24 Tammuz 5782 

Today’s Actions Will Affect the Future

To listen to the recorded message, click on https://youtu.be/JH5MW05P3RA

Parashat Pinchas presents a variety of enriching themes; we see how, by his quick action, Pinchas was rewarded for his zeal towards the Eternal; we see how the daughters of Zelophehad obtained their right to the land after bringing their request to Moshe; we read how the second census of the people of Israel was done, how family is mentioned more than 90 times in this portion, how Yehoshua (Joshua) was chosen to be the next leader, as successor to Moshe and about the offerings in detail during the Moedim, God’s Appointed Times.

Although each one can be discussed at length, my focus today is on the importance of making the right decisions and their implications for the future. We see how Pinchas came to a decision in a moment of pressure and stress, as he watched his people die when they were acting in such a depraved manner. Pinchas did not act on blind impulse as we may tend to think, rather he made his decision based on what the Eternal had ordered Moshe to do, i.e., to impale all those who had joined themselves to Baal Peor. This decision brought many future repercussions to his family, one of which was: הִנְנִי נֹתֵן לוֹ אֶת-בְּרִיתִי שָׁלוֹם“Hineni noten lo et-briti shalom” “Behold, I give you my covenant of peace”. Notice that the letter Vav in the word Shalom written in the Torah scrolls appears broken giving us the idea that peace among men was broken (Vav equals 6 meaning man in gematria), and that it would only be restored according to the Midrash when there was peace among Reuben, Gad, Menasheh and the rest of Israel (from Tract Zevachim 101b). 

Pinchas performed an act of justice, but he is criticized because he did not act with mercy, and caused the breaking of the shalom among the tribes. What his action did was to deflect the wrath of God (v.11); he wasn’t looking to appease or to be well regarded. Pinchas, who was a cohen, took the lives of two people, although it had been ordered that the judges of Israel carry it out and not the priests; thus, Pinchas diverted the attention of the Eternal so that he was not consumed on the spot. God who is merciful, testified that he acted out of zeal for the Eternal and not out of desire for revenge or personal interest. 

In this sense, today there is such a fine line between zeal for the Eternal and the impulses of anger and revenge that arise due to the wrong actions of others, which can lead us to act out of our own selfish motives. It is true that the covenant of the Bore Olam is eternal, and for this reason we will see later in 1 Chronicles 6:4 – 8 that Tzadok is a descendant of Pinchas as well as Ezra in Ezra 7:1 – 5 and according to Ezekiel, this priestly line will officiate before the Creator in the last days (Ezekiel 40, 43, 44 and 48). Having made the right decision brought consequences for the future generations of Pinchas, with the Eternal giving him the ability to transmit and reproduce his spirit of zeal for the Eternal and not to deviate or contaminate himself in pursuit of other gods, as Ezekiel mentions.

On the other hand, Yehoshua decided not to depart from the Tent of Meeting, where the Divine presence resided, as we read in Exodus 33:11. This decision to want to live in the midst of the tabernacle caused him to have a different “spirit”. We read this when he, together with Caleb, brought the report to conquer the Land, as described in Numbers 13:21-25. It is then we see that the Eternal gave Yehoshua the leadership of Israel to conquer the Promised Land.

We also read how the daughters of Zelophehad made a very risky decision to go against a previously issued ruling that implied that only men would inherit the land; they risked their lives with that request because it could have been understood as an act of rebellion. However, they did not conform to the status quo, but decided to fight for their rights and presented their case before Moses. Here we observe how Moses wisely consulted the Eternal on the matter Who gave a favorable opinion. Thus, the daughters inherited the land promised to their fathers when they had come out of Egypt. I think that they are the first women who were the voice of many others in the same situation; the voice of vulnerable women. They were an example for future generations to fight for justice and for the rights of women all around the world, since they were a seed for social justice and women’s rights in a male-run society.

Midian, on the other hand, decided to take the path of “sinat chinam”, gratuitous hatred. In fact, they had no real risk of Israel taking their land when they conquered Canaan, because they neither passed near their territory nor made any special requests to cross over or occupy their land. They sought to destroy Israel out of this free hatred, possibly due to a root of bitterness that began in Abraham’s time, since Midian was the son of Abraham and Keturah as we read in Genesis 25:1-4. This decision to seek unwarranted warfare led to the destruction of his people as we read in Numbers 31. Israel’s decision to join the cult of Baal Peor and the acts committed by Zimri and Cozbi, resulted in the death of 24,000 people in Israel. The tribes most affected were Simeon, Gad, Ephraim, and Naftali according to the results of the census. Indulging in sexual immorality brings disastrous consequences to people’s lives, their families and to society in general.

According to some scholars, human beings constantly make decisions; on an average of 35,000 decisions per day, however, we are only aware of perhaps 1% of them because many are made automatically. The problem of everyday life is that we don’t realize the consequences of what we decide or don’t decide, until it’s too late. How do you make your decisions?  Are you like Pinchas, who acted as a lone wolf albeit out of a sense of justice?  His decision turned out to be a right one because of his good intentions, but wouldn’t it have been better for him to be more like Moshe who consulted the Eternal first? Sadly, people have used this action of Pinchas to justify their violent acts to defend their beliefs. Do you listen to the voice of God or to your own voice when you make decisions? 

Unfortunately, the ability to decide in the various areas of our lives are often taken away from us, such as the freedom to decide to get vaccinated, the freedom to elect candidates for public office, to decide on how to manage public spending, on many things, but we still have the opportunity and the power to decide to grow, to overcome the past, to face our fears, to create opportunities, to help others, to build relationships, to serve God, to pray, to study Torah, and to be a light to others. This Shabbat, let us ask ourselves, what decisions are we making today that will impact our future, and the future generations that will come from our loins? May the Eternal help us to make the best decisions, daily, according to the light of His Torah.

The following is the link to the recorded group Discussion on Pinchas: https://youtu.be/CArT2nXCtAg

Shabbat Shalom

Mauricio Quintero