19 Tammuz                             Recorded Message

                                                    Shabbat Discussion:

Are we for or are we against the Bore Olam?

Last week we heard the story of Bilaam, the Midianite prophet for hire who knew that no one outside the community of Israel could force God to withdraw His protection from them, however, if the people themselves chose to go astray, God Himself would remove His protective covering and they could be destroyed from within. With this in mind, we read in Numbers 25:1-3 how the Israelite men committed “…harlotry with the Moabite women, who invited the men to the sacrifices for their god… Baal Peor and the Creator was incensed with Israel.” As a result, to turn His wrath away from Israel, God told Moses to have the judges publicly impale all the ringleaders. They knew that the First Commandment that God gave us at Mt. Sinai is to have no other gods; they were there.

Just then a certain Israelite man came and brought a Midianite woman over to his companions, in the sight of Moses and the whole Israelite community who were weeping at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.”  Why were they weeping? Will God change His mind if we don’t have a change of heart?

When the judges failed to act, Pinchas stepped up to the plate; “he followed the Israelite man into the chamber and stabbed them both through the belly. Then the “plague” against the Israelites was halted”, but not before this plague had caused the death of 24,000 people and no matter how much we may try to whitewash our desert ancestors, it was due to their sin. This amount was 8 times higher than at the sin of the golden calf when 3000 people died. (In Gematria 8, stands for a new beginning and hopefully, this would be one). 24,000 is around 0.8 percent of the population at that time, estimated to be about 3,000,000. If we apply this to the number of people in Canada today, which is around 39,000,000, the death toll would be 312,000. How often in the history of our planet have we read about various plagues? Howard Baum compiled a report for the University of Cincinnati in which he writes that there have been 249 pandemics throughout recorded history from 1200 BC to today’s Covid19.   If we were to examine the moral turpitude of each of the societies recorded in his report, I wonder if they would coincide with each plague.

Who was this man Pinchas who found the courage to stand up for God when no one else did?  He was a Levite whose mother was a Midianite, and the Torah emphasizes that his father, Eleazar was the son of Aaron, the High Priest. What would cause Pinchas to kill one of his own relatives? He was not upset because Zimri went with Cozbi, a Midianite woman. That would have been hypocrisy since his mother was a Midianite.

Let’s examine these two characters. The young prince was Zimri, the son of a chief from the tribe of Simeon while Pinchas was from the tribe of Levi. Do you remember the story of the two hot-headed sons of Jacob, Levi and Simeon who murdered all the men in the village of Shechem when their chief’s son stole the honor of their sister, Dinah?  Well, here they are again. However, Levi had chosen a different path than his brother Simeon. In Exodus 32:27 we read, “Moses stood up in the gate of the camp and said, “Whoever is for the LORD come here! And all the men of Levi rallied to him.” Levi made restitution that day when he and his men killed 3000 of their own relatives, friends and neighbors. That could not have been easy for them. “The LORD had sent a “plague” upon the people, for what they did with the calf that Aaron made.”  Again, a plague as a consequence of the action of people!  It’s so easy for people to blame God for their suffering to the point that they become atheists, but the truth is hard to swallow.

Can we put the blame on the Moabite and Midianite women for this tragedy? Wasn’t Ruth a Moabite? Cozbi was the daughter of Zur the prince of the Midianites, driven by their hatred of Israel, they didn’t care about their own daughters to the point that they were willing to give them up as prostitutes to entice the Israelites to worship Baal Peor. We read about this type of society in Sodom where Lot himself offered his own daughters to protect the visiting angels. Are those any different than what we see in today’s fanatical groups who allow their own children to be killed, blown up, and used as human shields because of their sheer hatred of Israel? This is Sinat Chinam!

When I think of the arrogant attitude of this young couple, how it must have pierced the soul of Pinchas. They were behaving as if the god of Baal Peor had prevailed over the God of Israel.  They were flaunting their rebellion in front of the entire congregation but notice that it said, they went first to their companions, sparking a rebellion among the youth of that day.  Our Prophet Samuel in chapter 15:23 said, “Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.”  Again the breaking of the First Commandment.

God loves His people, Israel but sadly today the nation is suffering due to Sinat Chinam from within, falling into the same trap as the generation of Pinchas and what later caused the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. We are being enticed to follow the gods of this world and instead of being the example, our lack of morality is leading us to suffer the same consequences. We, His Chosen People, have been given the formula on how to be “ohr l’goyim” (light to the nations) and because of that, we are called to a higher standard, but we have lost our moral compass. What God tells us in His Torah is right, we now say is wrong and what the Torah says is wrong, we are claiming to be right, and all the while the majority remains silent, weeping in our tents.

One of the major religions of the day stems from Biblical Judaism but as long as people continue to worship the Nehushtan, the bronze serpent on the pole, instead of the Creator, we will continue to see suffering in this world. As long as we insist that the Ten Commandments, sealed in stone by the Creator’s own Hand, can be changed or ignored, we will continue to see suffering in this world.  As long as we refuse to step up to the plate, like Pinchas did and call what is right, right and what is wrong, wrong, nothing will change. As long as we sit on the fence and allow a very brash minority to overrun us, nothing will change.  Are we waiting for the Messiah to fix the world?  Pinchas didn’t wait. He didn’t hesitate. He acted and saved thousands if not millions from death.

What are you and I doing today?  That is our quest.  Wherever we see injustice, do we speak up or are we indifferent? It takes courage which I often lack, but the daughters of Zelophechad, the five young women in this parashah, did just that. Their names, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, appear twice. The only time that the names of women are mentioned in the Bible is when they are singled out for a special purpose. They spoke out at a time when women had no rights. Moses and the Creator heard their claims and new regulations were instituted because they had the courage to speak up for what was right. We can learn from these brave young women. The Bible teaches us to speak out for those who have no rights and for those who cannot speak for themselves, like the unborn.

Further into the parashah, we read such an important request of Moses which is so easily passed over. “Let the LORD, the Source of the breath of all flesh, appoint someone over the community who shall go out and come in before them, and who shall take them out and bring them in, so that the LORD’s community may not be like sheep that have no shepherd.” And the LORD answered Moses, single out Joshua, son of Nun, an inspired man, and lay your hand upon him…he shall present himself to Eleazar the priest, who shall on his behalf seek the decision of the Urim (the lots) before the LORD. By such instruction they shall go out and come in, he and all the Israelite army, and the whole community.”

That is the government that the Bore Olam set up for us. Imagine if we had been satisfied to have this type of government, not democracy, not aristocracy, and certainly not dictatorships. If we hadn’t begged God for a king to rule over us like the other nations; if we had simply accepted that one inspired man or many men of God could rule over the people in justice and be willing to hear from God just like Moses, Aaron and Joshua did, what would our lives be like now?  Instead, we elect people, kings, to rule over us who are morally bankrupt and are leading our countries into swift ruin.  As a result, as our rabbi taught, society is descending from morality to immorality and finally to amorality, in which we have lost the capacity to distinguish between right and wrong. I don’t have to spell it out for us. We see it everywhere.

Our parashah began with Pinchas’ zeal for God which held back God’s Hand from wiping out the Israelite people. It won him the Brit Shalom, for him and his descendants, and the Brit Kehunat Olam, the Covenant of Priesthood for all time. I thought a lot about this brit shalom as I was walking in the cool of the evening this past week.  I felt such a sense of God’s shalom and joy knowing that as we are faithful to our God and grow to trust and obey Him, we can sense His cloud of protection over our lives.

Are we the spiritual descendants of Pinchas?

We can choose to stand with Moses and the Torah and turn away from the pride and arrogance of Zimri and Cozbi. Pinchas took action out of a sense of justice not that of a fanatic seeking vengeance, for “Vengeance is Mine says the LORD”.  Neither was Pinchas seeking a position like the proud Korach, rather he humbly accepted his role as cohen, servant of Israel. The story is not about us becoming so fanatic that we go around killing everyone who does not submit to our beliefs. The Great Religions of the world have done that, and we Jews have felt the sting of this ideology throughout our long history.

 The Haftarah portion promises us that in the end, all will be well. Jeremiah 2:3 states, “Israel is holy (separate) to the LORD, the first fruit of God’s harvest; all who devour her shall be held guilty; evil shall come upon them, says the LORD”.  So let’s not lose heart about all the injustice that we see in the world today, for as the darkness increases, so our light can shine more brightly.  As God moved Pinchas, He can move us in the right direction in all that we do… if we choose to take the path of Levi and not Simeon.

We can trust that our Creator will never abandon us; sadly, it is we who abandon Him by being disobedient to His commandments. Antisemitism is on the rise again and our only hope for redemption is to turn our hearts toward the God of our fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and to be obedient to His Torah. What matters are the intentions of our hearts and no one, apart from our Creator, knows them better than us. Are we for the Creator, are we against the Creator, or are we weeping in our tents?

Shabbat Shalom

Peggy Pardo