Step by step, the Torah introduces us to a new generation of leaders of Israel. Often, when we speak of new leadership, we use to project great hopes: that the new one will be correct, ethical, that he/she will leads us to a time of justice, prosperity and optimism. But not always the new is like that. It seems that in all contexts and epochs new leaders arise to keep the tiny balance among different tendencies. Today we are accustomed to call them rightists and leftists, pacifists and warmongers, conservatives and liberals. However, to explain it in a binary way does not reflect the reality, which is much more complex than that. The Reform Movement uses to affirm that there is more than one way to be Jewish – nothing more Jewish than it! And the Torah always seems to tell us that there are so many ways to deal with the challenges ahead.

 

Pinchas, leader by birthright

One of the new leaders of Israel, shortly before completing 40 years through the desert, is Pinchas ben Elazar, grandson of Aaron, the first Israelite priest. Upon seeing the Israelite Zimri ben Salu lying with the Midianite Kozbi bat Tzur, Pinchas did not think twice: he took a spear and traversed the couple through their belly. After this extreme movement, the Torah tells us that Pinchas´ initiative interrupted a plague that killed 24,000 Israelites and, almost at the same time, God established covenant of peace with him.

Some years ago, a dear friend of mine, who is a “espírita” – Spiritism is a very popular religion in Brazil, based on the mediunic abilities of Alain Kardec, met me on the street. We talked a little about the recurring Israeli-Palestinian conflict – as always happens. At some point he told me: “My dear friend, we must always defend peace, but I always say that in order to achieve it, we must be prepared for war. Unfortunately, we often have to wage war in order to achieve peace”. Embarassed, I looked at him with sadness. And why? Because he put my convictions in check, so to say, that it should be unnecessary to go through war in order to achieve peace – after all, the world around us always seems to agree with him.

Pinchas used the spear to fight a religious war. Well, He was a cohen, a priest. People of Israel had been warned not to exchange their God for Baal Peor, the Moabite god. When he saw an Israelite together with a Midianite (not a Moabite), he decided to cut off evil by the root. Pinchas killed them immediately. He was convinced that it was the right thing to do against a people who should be wounded by vengeance: after all, it was God himself who claimed that the Midianites deceived us, especially their women, by drawing our men to other gods.

But can an partial worldview really identify a whole people so clearly, whether they are good or bad persons? In wartimes we tend to show this dubious position: some see all Palestinians as evil, others see the entire State of Israel as evil. Is the reality so simple? 100% bad guys and 100% good guys? I don’t think so. The reality is much more complex than that.

But when we talk about our weekly portion of the Torah, I try to remember: Midian, Midian … of what people was Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law? In other words, to which people Tziporah belonged, Yitro´s daughter, Mose´s wife? Bingo: to the People of Midian. Yitroh, who named other Parashat Hashavua, was a good man, a counselor to Moses. The Midrash says that he joined the People of Israel and even returned to his land in order to convert more people to the Israelite beliefs. And even if not all the Midianites had converted – I imagine that many did not – if at that time the same rule was to be defined as who is Jewish (a Jewish womb) as today, the sons of Moses would be considered Midianites – we would have the absurdity of having the obligation to afflict and to harm the Midianites, with the descendants of Moses among them.

In the face of Pinchas’s attitude, God decides to give His covenant of peace to him and to reassure the covenant of perpetual priesthood with Aaron´s family, “because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.” (Numbers 25:13). One possible interpretation: As a priest, Pinchas had a one-sided view of the world. Pinchas understood that he could solve conflicts only by his point of view and thus, as he was the good guy, it was ok to exterminate the “bad guys”. Then God offered to him the other side of the coin: Peace. Just as He created light and darkness, good and bad things, so also a religious leader must be prepared not only to war but also to peace. God did not reward Pinchas’ belligerence; He offered a balance for it.

 

Parashat Pinchas

Rabbi Uri Lam, July 2018

 

Step by step, the Torah introduces us to a new generation of leaders of Israel. Often, when we speak of new leadership, we use to project great hopes: that the new one will be correct, ethical, that he/she will leads us to a time of justice, prosperity and optimism. But not always the new is like that. It seems that in all contexts and epochs new leaders arise to keep the tiny balance among different tendencies. Today we are accustomed to call them rightists and leftists, pacifists and warmongers, conservatives and liberals. However, to explain it in a binary way does not reflect the reality, which is much more complex than that. The Reform Movement uses to affirm that there is more than one way to be Jewish – nothing more Jewish than it! And the Torah always seems to tell us that there are so many ways to deal with the challenges ahead.

 

Pinchas, leader by birthright

One of the new leaders of Israel, shortly before completing 40 years through the desert, is Pinchas ben Elazar, grandson of Aaron, the first Israelite priest. Upon seeing the Israelite Zimri ben Salu lying with the Midianite Kozbi bat Tzur, Pinchas did not think twice: he took a spear and traversed the couple through their belly. After this extreme movement, the Torah tells us that Pinchas´ initiative interrupted a plague that killed 24,000 Israelites and, almost at the same time, God established covenant of peace with him.

Some years ago, a dear friend of mine, who is a “espírita” – Spiritism is a very popular religion in Brazil, based on the mediunic abilities of Alain Kardec, met me on the street. We talked a little about the recurring Israeli-Palestinian conflict – as always happens. At some point he told me: “My dear friend, we must always defend peace, but I always say that in order to achieve it, we must be prepared for war. Unfortunately, we often have to wage war in order to achieve peace”. Embarassed, I looked at him with sadness. And why? Because he put my convictions in check, so to say, that it should be unnecessary to go through war in order to achieve peace – after all, the world around us always seems to agree with him.

Pinchas used the spear to fight a religious war. Well, He was a cohen, a priest. People of Israel had been warned not to exchange their God for Baal Peor, the Moabite god. When he saw an Israelite together with a Midianite (not a Moabite), he decided to cut off evil by the root. Pinchas killed them immediately. He was convinced that it was the right thing to do against a people who should be wounded by vengeance: after all, it was God himself who claimed that the Midianites deceived us, especially their women, by drawing our men to other gods.

But can an partial worldview really identify a whole people so clearly, whether they are good or bad persons? In wartimes we tend to show this dubious position: some see all Palestinians as evil, others see the entire State of Israel as evil. Is the reality so simple? 100% bad guys and 100% good guys? I don’t think so. The reality is much more complex than that.

But when we talk about our weekly portion of the Torah, I try to remember: Midian, Midian … of what people was Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law? In other words, to which people Tziporah belonged, Yitro´s daughter, Mose´s wife? Bingo: to the People of Midian. Yitroh, who named other Parashat Hashavua, was a good man, a counselor to Moses. The Midrash says that he joined the People of Israel and even returned to his land in order to convert more people to the Israelite beliefs. And even if not all the Midianites had converted – I imagine that many did not – if at that time the same rule was to be defined as who is Jewish (a Jewish womb) as today, the sons of Moses would be considered Midianites – we would have the absurdity of having the obligation to afflict and to harm the Midianites, with the descendants of Moses among them.

In the face of Pinchas’s attitude, God decides to give His covenant of peace to him and to reassure the covenant of perpetual priesthood with Aaron´s family, “because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.” (Numbers 25:13). One possible interpretation: As a priest, Pinchas had a one-sided view of the world. Pinchas understood that he could solve conflicts only by his point of view and thus, as he was the good guy, it was ok to exterminate the “bad guys”. Then God offered to him the other side of the coin: Peace. Just as He created light and darkness, good and bad things, so also a religious leader must be prepared not only to war but also to peace. God did not reward Pinchas’ belligerence; He offered a balance for it.

Parashat Pinchas

Rabino Uri Lam, julho 2014

 

Aos poucos a Torá passa a nos apresentar uma nova geração de líderes do povo de Israel. Muitas vezes, quando falamos do novo, costumamos projetar muitas esperanças: que o novo seja mais correto, ético, que mire no futuro e nos leve para um tempo de prosperidade e otimismo. Mas nem sempre o novo é progressista. Parece que em todos os contextos e épocas surgem novas forças que mantêm o tênue equilíbrio entre diferentes tendências. Hoje nos acostumamos a chamá-las de direita e esquerda, pacifistas e belicistas, conservadores e liberais. Mas resumir forças opostas de modo binário tampouco reflete a realidade, que é bem mais complexa do que isso. O movimento judaico progressista costuma dizer que há mais de um modo de ser judeu; nada mais judaico: a Torá parece sempre nos dizer que há diversos modos de lidar com os desafios que temos pela frente.

 

Pinchas, líder por descendência

Uma das novas lideranças do povo de Israel, pouco antes do fim dos 40 anos pelo deserto, é Pinchas ben Elazar, neto do primeiro sacerdote israelita, Aarão. Ao ver o israelita Zimri ben Salu deitar-se com a midianita Kozbi bat Tzur, Pinchas não pensou duas vezes: tomou uma lança e atravessou o casal pelo ventre. Com isso, conta a Torá, não só interrompeu uma mortandade que assolava o Povo de Israel – 24 mil já haviam morrido – como Deus ainda estabeleceu com ele uma aliança de paz.

Há poucos dias um amigo querido, de religião espírita, me encontrou na rua. Conversamos um pouco sobre o recorrente conflito entre israelenses e palestinos. Em algum momento ele me disse: “Meu querido amigo, devemos sempre defender a paz, mas eu sempre digo que, para alcançá-la, precisamos estar preparados para a guerra. Infelizmente, muitas vezes é preciso fazer a guerra para se alcançar a paz”. Olhei para ele com um olhar triste e constrangido. E por quê? Porque ele colocou em cheque minhas convicções de que não deveria ser preciso passar pela guerra para se alcançar a paz – afinal, o mundo ao nosso redor parece sempre dizer o oposto.

Pinchas utilizou a lança para lutar uma guerra religiosa. Ele era um cohen, um sacerdote. O povo de Israel havia sido advertido para não trocar o seu Deus por Baal Peor, divindade então adorada pelos moabitas. Ao ver em seguida um israelita junto com uma midianita (não uma moabita), resolveu cortar o mal pela raiz. Pinchas matou, convicto de que fazia o que era justo contra um povo que deveria ser ferido por vingança: afinal, era o próprio Deus quem afirmava que os midianitas nos enganavam, em especial as mulheres, atraindo-nos para outros deuses e deitando-se com os homens do nosso povo – ou assim eram vistos.

Mas será que uma visão unilateral pode realmente identificar um povo com tanta clareza, se são bons ou maus? Em situações de guerra tendemos a essa posição dúbia: uns veem todos os palestinos como maus, outros veem todo o Estado de Israel como mau. Será que a realidade é tão simples assim? Bandidos e mocinhos? Eu entendo que não. A realidade é muito mais complexa do que isso.

Mas ao falarmos da nossa porção semanal da Torá, tento puxar pela memória: Midian, Midian… de que povo era Yitró, sogro de Moisés? Em outras palavras, a qual povo pertencia Tzipora, filha de Yitró, esposa de Moisés? Bingo: ao povo de Midian. Yitró, que também foi homenageado com seu nome para uma parashá da Torá, foi um homem bom, conselheiro de Moisés. Diz o Midrash que ele se uniu ao povo de Israel e inclusive voltou à sua terra para converter mais gente para as crenças israelitas. E mesmo que nem todos os midianitas tenham se convertido – imagino que muitos não se converteram – se naquela época valesse a mesma regra de hoje quanto à definição de quem é judeu (filho de ventre judaico) os filhos de Moisés seriam considerados midianitas – e no limite, teríamos o absurdo de termos por obrigação afligir e ferir, entre os midianitas, os descendentes de Moisés.

Diante da atitude de Pinchas, Deus decide entregar a ele a Sua aliança de paz e reafirma o pacto de sacerdócio perpétuo com a família de Aarão, “porque zelou por seu Deus e fez expiação pelos filhos de Israel” (Núm. 25:13). Uma possível interpretação: Pinchas, como sacerdote, tinha uma visão unilateral, caolha, do mundo. Pinchas entendia que poderia resolver conflitos pela ponta da lança e assim, como “bom”, exterminar o “mal”. Deus então lhe ofereceu o outro lado da moeda: a paz. Assim como Ele criou a luz e a escuridão, as coisas boas e as coisas más, assim também um líder religioso deve estar preparado não só para a guerra, mas também para a paz. Deus não premiou a beligerância de Pinchas; Ele lhe ofereceu o equilíbrio. Nem senhores da guerra radicais nem pacifistas radicais são a solução para nenhum conflito.

 

 

About the author:

Rabbi Uri Lam serves Congregação Israelita Mineira (CIM) in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais St. Brazil.