Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 16 July 2022 / 17 Tammuz 5782

Authentic Peace

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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Last week, we read about the fiasco of Baal Pe’or, where many Jews were seduced by Midianite women, and then persuaded to worship the idol Pe’or in the most detestable ways.

As the leaders of the nation assembled to sit in judgment over the guilty, the brazen Zimri paraded a Midianite princess around, in full view of the whole community, encouraging continuation of the reprehensible crime. The sight of such impudence, at the entrance to the Sanctuary — the sight of such heinous degeneracy at the site that was to safeguard the holiness of the people — reduced the nation, including its leaders, to helpless tears.

Only one man — Pinchas — summoned the strength for manly action. As a young man, he saw the tears of helplessness as a sign that Israel’s leaders had lost faith in their nation’s future. He took a spear in hand and slew the Jewish man and the Midianite woman in an act that spared the people the wrath of Hashem. The plague that already had claimed 24,000 lives, and would have claimed the lives of many more, ceased immediately.

Pinchas demonstrated that as long as there is even one person left on earth to champion the cause of Hashem and Torah, then Hashem’s cause — the survival and education of humanity — is not lost. Our Torah portion opens with Pinchas being rewarded with the covenant called peace. The supreme harmony of peace is entrusted here to that spirit and activism which thoughtless people — anxious to mask their passivity and neglect of duty as “love of peace” — like to brand and condemn as “disturbances of the peace.” But in reality, one who dares to struggle against the enemies of what is good and true in the eyes of Hashem is a fighter for the covenant of peace on earth. Authentic peace is harmony with the Will of Hashem.

The converse is also true. One who does not stand up for truth, one who will not struggle to attain it, is called “a hater of peace” in Psalms 120:6. Only if people will respect truth, and endeavor to have their actions, desires, speech and actions correspond to that truth, will they be able to work together in harmony.

When it comes to our personal sphere of desires, rights and possessions, we are encouraged to pursue peace, at almost any price. If it is only our personal interest, property rights, or honor that is at stake, we should avoid even the most justified quarrel. But when the price for peace includes the values of humanity, in general, and of the Torah in particular, it is too high a price.

In Scripture, when truth and peace are juxtaposed, truth ordinarily precedes peace. (Zechariah 8:19; 8:16) Truth comes first and peace only second. Peace, as Pinchas has taught us, is a product of truth. And this is why peace cannot be pursued at the expense of the truth.

Eternal priesthood is promised to Pinchas and to the loyal heirs among his sons because he was zealous on behalf of Hashem, and took bold action to atone for all those who remained silent around him. In acting for the sake of Hashem’s truth, he is rewarded with eternal peace.

  • Source: Commentary, Bamidbar, 25:12, Mishlei page 196, Tehillim 120:6

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