Parashat Pinkhas: Judaism and Dissociative identity disorder
In the context of last week’s voices coming from Israel: Minister of religious affairs David Azoulay said: Reform aren’t Jews! and MK Moshe Gafni added: Reforms are Jews but they are stabbing Torah on its back! This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Pinckhas, has a very special meaning.
The lack of “filters” when we read Torah or interpret god’s will is well rooted in Jewish history and unfortunately as we saw in Jewish current reality as well.
This parasha relates the story of Pinckhas , a fanatic who killed a couple because he understood from God that it would be a good idea!
4 Adonai said to Moshe, “Take all the chiefs of the people, and hang them facing the sun before Adonai, so that the raging fury of Adonai will turn away from Isra’el.” 5 Moshe said to the judges of Isra’el, “Each of you is to put to death those in his tribe who have joined themselves to Ba‘al-P‘or.”
6 Just then, in the sight of Moshe and the whole community of Isra’el, as they were weeping at the entrance to the tent of meeting, a man from Isra’el came by, bringing to his family a woman from Midyan. (Maftir) 7 When Pinchas the son of El‘azar, the son of Aharon the cohen, saw it, he got up from the middle of the crowd, took a spear in his hand, 8 and pursued the man from Isra’el right into the inner part of the tent, where he thrust his spear through both of them — the man from Isra’el and the woman through her stomach. Thus was the plague among the people of Isra’el stopped; (Numbers 25 4-8)
Interestingly enough, note that in verse 4 it is written here “hang them”. However, the literal translation from Hebrew is in fact “denounce”/”repudiate”. Can you see the translator “taking sides” with Moses’ interpretation of God’s words? God says denounce and Moses says PUT TO DEATH….
Moses, who until today in many occasions served as a “filter” to God’s fury, acting to moderate it, is now making it even more complicated.
10 Adonai said to Moshe, 11 “Pinchas the son of El‘azar, the son of Aharon the cohen, has deflected my anger from the people of Isra’el by being as zealous as I am, so that I didn’t destroy them in my own zeal. 12 Therefore say, ‘I am giving him my covenant of shalom, 13 making a covenant with him and his descendants after him that the office of cohen will be theirs forever.’ This is because he was zealous on behalf of his God and made atonement for the people of Isra’el.” (Numbers 25:10-13)
When you think that this difficult text perhaps involved some issue we misunderstood, Torah cares to explain to us that it didn’t!
Is God giving Pinchas a prize? Applauding what he did and recognizing this fanaticism as legitimate? The answer is He is recognizing… so YES or NOT? BOTH!
I have been in conversations in which people suggested to “delete” this from our identity, and I heard many commentaries supporting this idea. Like eliminating a tumor… And yes, you can avoid reading it, but it is there!
Fanaticism is there! It is just a part of us! I can easily delete all the parts that make you feel uncomfortable in the Torah but better you face it!
Our being is full of feelings and our humanity is of course multidimensional. So we can eventually “delete” and “eradicate” fanaticism from the Torah, but do you really think that in that way we will release our humanity of this? Of course not!
So how do we deal with this challenging portion? The first step is by owning it, namely by checking what are the situations in which you (me) are fanatics… Where do we let our anger, inconsideration, speak on behalf of us? where do we behave with violence? Where do we stop to see others and the only thing we can think about is that whatever we believe is “the” correct – the single right thing – and we don’t notice the means we use in order to get our purpose.
Returning our focus to Pinkhas we should ask about God’s role in this story and the covenant of shalom – peace with Pinkhas!
Continuing with the line we started before, connecting humanity and divinity, the qualities of the “divine energy ” are many; mercy ,forgiveness, love ,kindness, anger, fury are transmitted to us all together and we need to apply “filters” in receiving them (We’ve seen this many times in the torah).
What about the peace? “You will show truth to Ya‘akov and grace to Avraham, as you have sworn to our ancestors since days of long ago.” (Micah 7:20); Abraham who almost killed Isaac, Jacob who many times lied to his family…. and of course PEACE to Pinkhas who is a fanatic! Each of them gets the necessary balance.
But there is one more twist in our story that I want to share with you. It is as if God Himself does a kind of teshuva – repentance – by acknowledging Pinkhas. God knows that Pinkhas received His fury without applying filters. He appreciates Pinkhas’ identification with Him but he knows that it shouldn’t be taken ‘pure’. For this reason He calm Pinkhas (make peace) and then provides him support by keeping him “in the loop” forever, “the covenant of an everlasting priesthood”. This is also a reminder for the Torah reader that reading is interpretation (as we cited about Moses from denouncement to killing) and we have to admeasure our interpretations.
Pinkhas is there, we don’t need him to disappear from the story but neither to transcend. We can do this by recognizing him in the story but not only there but also in us, as individuals and as the Jewish people, working every day to make the balance and have peace.