The Parsha begins with a description of Pinchas‘ richly-deserved reward: a covenant of peace. How self-evident is this particular reward? Why is peace the reward for taking another man’s life? This act of violence might have had extremely dire consequences for the entire congregation: Violence almost always runs the risk of begetting more violence. How might the congregation have reacted? Were all in agreement that Pinchas acted correctly, or was his behavior less than universally accepted?
The ARIZAL and Yalkut Reuveni explain that the actions of Pinchas and Zimri were not as isolated incident of 2 individuals involved in sin and zealotry, but rather as part of a much deeper story involving individuals from previous generation. They don’t argue the righteousness of Pinchas and the evil of Zimri– but opened us a window to understand that it is a far more complex story, which concludes another story that started centuries prior.
The Parasha of Vayishlach recounts: And Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. And Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her; and he took her, and lay with her, and abused her. (Bereishit 34:1-2)
Shechem was smitten with Dina and wanted to take her as his wife. Dina’s brothers told Shechem and his father Hamor that their sister could only marry a man of their own faith – a man who was circumcised. Only if Shechem’s family were all circumcised could they merge with the family of Yaakov. Not only did Shechem and Hamor agree, they even convinced the entire city to become circumcised. On the third day after circumcising, Shimon and Levi, took advantage of their weakness and annihilated the entire town. The Midrash recounts that Shechem and his family was killed as well as the 24000 citizens of the city. Yaakov rebuked his sons for that massacre.
These seemingly divergent and unrelated stories, is in fact the backdrop for our Parasha: The ARIZAL states that Kozbi, the Medianit woman which sinned with Zimri was a reincarnation of the soul of Dina, and the soul of Shechem was reincarnated in Zimri. The attempted union between Zimri and Kozbi was a second attempt to heal the rupture that had been created generations earlier. The overly inclusive attitude displayed by Zimri and Kozbi was in fact a reaction to the overly exclusive attitude displayed by the brothers of Dina.
Furthermore, the 24,000 townspeople of Shechem killed by Shimon and Levi were reincarnated in the 24000 people of the tribe of Shimon that perished in the plague that broke out following the outrage of Zimri and Kozbi. This parallel further reinforces the connection between these two seemingly unrelated episodes.
The Parasha teaches us that there are consequences to a person’s action, as they don’t end where we think they do. They have reverberations that could affect many lives over centuries.
The fundamental difference between Pinchas and Shimon and Levi’s action is: one acted according to the Divine law and the others out of emotional revenge. The outcome could not be more different. Pinchas is rewarded by Shalom which is a name of God, to show to all he acted correctly and that he was under God’s protection, while the killing of the people of Shechem came back to haunt us and cause us major pain and deception.
The fact is: Had Zimri truly felt that Kozbi was his soulmate, that they were meant to be together, they could have chosen to be married in a proper way, after she had converted. They could have lived lawfully happy ever again. Instead, Zimri chose to defy publicly the laws of the Thora, which led to his downfall and to his death at the hands of Pinchas. The choice of our actions is ours, and that choice matters.
By Rabbi Fridmann * firstname.lastname@example.org * 305.985.3461
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