“Pinchas... son of Aaron, the Kohen” (25:11)
The Guardian newspaper in England has just run a preview of a bio-pic of the life of Princess Diana. With all its razzle-dazzle, Hollywood could not have outglitzed this movie.
I remember well the outpouring of grief when she died. That people should mourn a life cut off in its prime is understandable. What was remarkable, however, was the spectacle of a world rending its clothes and beating its breast at the demise of a self-confessed adulteress. Youth, beauty and royalty apparently gilds marital treachery and turns it into the stuff of true life romance.
This singular flood of tears, however, was not a mere aberration of public sense and sensibility. From time immemorial there has existed such a double standard in society. Throughout history, kings have exercised what the French in their exquisitely delicate manner call the droit de seigneur - “the right of the master.” This was the accepted custom of the ruler to claim the first night of a girl’s marriage.
In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas puts an end to a plague which has killed 24,000. The cause of this plague was an orgy of immorality with the women of Midian and Moav. Instead of applauding his action, however, the people accused him of murder. It’s interesting that the accusation leveled at him is that ‘this grandson of someone who fattened calves to be calves to be sacrificed to idols’ had the gall to kill a prince of Israel. If you think about it, what does the social status of Pinchas have to do with whether his actions were justified or not?
Adultery amongst the hoi-poloi is as gilded as romance amongst the glitterati. Status makes everything permissible.
“And it shall be for him and his offspring after him a covenant of eternal priesthood, because he took vengeance for his G-d.” (25:13)
Why wasn’t Pinchas anointed with Aharon and his descendants long before his extraordinary zeal in avenging G-d’s name? Why was it necessary for Pinchas to be rewarded with a “covenant of eternal priesthood” rather than having the priesthood as his right?
The mystical sources teach that the soul of Pinchas came from the same soul-source as Cain. Cain killed his brother Abel. The Zohar says that any kohen who murders is disqualified from the kehuna forever, and thus Pinchas, through Cain, “forfeited” his right to offspring. Cain lost the kehuna for Pinchas, and it was only Pinchas’ extraordinary zeal that earned the kehuna for himself and his descendents.
How did Pinchas’ killing heal the damage of Cain’s killing?
The name Cain comes from the same root as kinyan, meaning “acquisition.” Chava, Cain’s mother, said, “I have acquired a man with G-d.” (Gen. 4:1)
In Jewish thought, acquisition is synonymous with existence. We talk of G-d “acquiring Heaven and Earth.” G-d’s “acquisition” was the action by which he brought Heaven and Earth into existence.
In Cain’s eyes he was the only acquisition in this world, its only existence.
This is the root of all evil.
For there can be no room for G-d in a world which is filled with “BIG ME.” If the world is filled with the glory of ME, how can there be any other Existence? BIG ME is the root of all atheism. BIG ME is the root of all jealousy. And ultimate jealousy leads ultimately to murder. For BIG ME has no more effective means to remove jealousy than to remove the source of jealousy – Little You. (You don’t exist anyway.)
However, the sense of self can have a positive side. Every single person is obliged to say to himself “the world was created for me” (Sanhedrin 37). In some way we are supposed to look at the world as though we were the only kinyan in it. In the Book of Chronicles it says that “The heart of King Yehoshofat (the son of David) was raised up in the ways of G-d” (Chron. II 17:6). A heart can be high with ego and evil, or it can be raised up with a zealousness to serve G-d.
When Pinchas took it upon himself to avenge the vengeance of G-d, even though he was not obliged to do so, he tapped into the positive side of Cain’s unregenerate egocentricity.
For it is only when someone does something that he doesn't have to do can we can recognize the paradox of the heart that is raised up to serve.
- Source: based on the Shem M’Shemuel