Parashat Balak

Balaam Versus Pinhas

Pinhas saw the relationship of an Israelite and a Midianite as a curse--but perhaps he, like Bilaam, could have turned it into a blessing.

Print this page Print this page

"Just then one of the Israelites came and brought a Midianite woman over to his companions, in the sight of Moses and of the whole Israelite community who were weeping at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. When Pinhas, son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest, saw this, he left the assembly and, taking a spear in his hand, he followed the Israelite into the chamber and stabbed both of them, the Israelite and the woman, through the belly. Then the plague against the Israelites was checked. Those who died of the plague numbered 24,000." (Numbers 25:6-9).

This is held up as a righteous act, for Pinhas is said to be protecting the sanctity and purity of the ancient Israelites. He destroyed both people, and by the symbolism of his act, the potential for future progeny as well. In their reams of commentary, the Rabbis certainly try portray this event as an act of justifiable violence. But nothing can justify Pinhas' action.

Perhaps Pinhas should have learned from Balaam. He saw the relationship of an Israelite and a Midianite woman as a curse, but he could have turned it into a blessing. The Torah has shown us that we can take lessons even from talking donkeys; every passage has a purpose. We should use the story of Pinhas to gain valuable insights as well. Make this your day to choose a blessing instead of a curse when you respond to those in our midst who have come from Midian and beyond.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky

Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky is executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute and the author of numerous books about Jewish spirituality.