Parshat Pinchas begins like this, Vayedaber YHVH el-Moshe l’emor, “the Divine Word came down to that part of consciousness that receives the teachings of the Torah, and this is what it said:” Pinchas ben-Elazar ben-Aharon haKohen, “Pinchas ben Elazar, the grandson of Aharon the kohein (priest)….” Now, keep in mind that the quality of the kohein (priest) is the quality of chesed(pure giving, loving-kindness). Heishiv et chamati me’al Bnei Yisrael, “he was able to eliminate my wrath from the Bnei Yisrael, from those who are in the process of evolving through following my guidance,” b’kano et kinati b’tocham, “by taking on the issue of ‘My jealousy’ as it applied to them.” V’lo chiliti et-Bnei-Yisrael b’kinati, “because of him I didn’t wipe out the Benei Yisrael, as a result of my jealousy.”
There is such a deep message concealed here that is at the very crux of our transformation into a new paradigm. The root teaching that is coming down here is, the person who can restore the world to a condition of Divine Favor performs the greatest of all mitzvot. There is nothing greater that any person can do than establish the condition of Divine Favor. That’s what Pinchas does in this story and it transforms him into a kohein. So we have to really look into it deeply to understand what this entails, because it’s not at all obvious from the literal level and more importantly, the Torah’s meaning evolves as we transform from the old paradigm to the new.
I once met a Sufi sheikh who told me how he had met his sheikh. This happened in Turkey. One day the sheikh found himself for no apparent reason following around a seemingly normal person, and yet, he noticed that this individual had a kind of magnetic attraction. Somehow, he sensed that there was more there than one could tell by simply looking at him, and so, he followed him around all day long. This individual was very busy doing all kinds of things, running errands, and meeting with various people about town, but never seemed to notice that he was being followed. He didn’t acknowledge him or say anything to him. And finally, he followed this busy, magnetic gentleman into a store. Inside, this man was doing business, and when he finished, the store keeper said to him, “may Allah be pleased with us!” And he responded, “Allah is pleased with us! May we be pleased withAllah!” And the person who told me the story said when he heard that he knew immediately that this was to be his sheikh. Up until then he wasn’t even sure who he was following. But, you see, the sheikh gave over the teaching that Allah is pleased with us! That is basically what the power of Pinchas is here: he can wipe out the sense of Divine Displeasure and balance the scales on this side of Divine Favor.
In the old paradigm, from the now ending shemitah of the Torah of Din (the epoch during which divine guidance was mostly only comprehensible in terms of either/or, yes or new, right or wrong, permitted or forbidden, Israel vs. the “Nations,” the G-d of Israel or “other gods”) restoring divine favor was understood as requiring jealous acts of zealotry against “foreign influences.” When the sages viewed parshat Pinchas from the vantage point of the old paradigm, they derived the halakhah (the law) “kenaim pog’in bo” (a zealot motivated by jealousy for G-d’s honor is entitled to strike out in order to restore Divine Favor and is not guilty of murder).
From the more enlightened perspective of the new paradigm Torah of Rachamim (when Divine Guidance comes to us in the form of all-embracing compassion), the old paradigm’s understanding of the halakhah and its reading of this parashah itself are repulsive and need to be renewed and transformed.
For the transformation to the new paradigm, kenaim pog’in bo, can mean a person who truly loves peace is forgiven for speaking out strongly against all forms of old-paradigm zealotry. With the voice of compassion and reason and a new paradigm understanding of what “G-d” is, we can cut through and eliminate the very idea of “G-d’s jealousy and wrath.”
After all, what is Divine Displeasure really about? The Torah says here that Pinchas was b’kano et kinati b’tocham, “taking on the issue of my jealousy with them.” So, from the old perspective, there are two problems here. One is the issue that is called avodah zarah, which means that we’re not really clear about who and what it is that we are serving. We are led astray in some sense, and that’s called “serving false or foreign gods.” And the second separate issue (from the perspective of the old atavistic paradigm) concerned forbidden relations between Israelite men and certain non-Israelite women.
At a deep level the connection was a fear of losing purity and identity with the “True Religion.” But by the time of the Ba’al Shem Tov, a harbinger of the new paradigm that we now have a unique opportunity to pursue, the meaning of avodah zarah was transforming into something deeper. Already in old paradigm classical Hasidism, any way that we’re led astray, that we’reseduced by things that seem important or powerful to us, is a form of avodah zarah. According to the Baal Shem Tov, as long as we’re in devequt, aligned with the Divine Connection within us, then that is not avodah zarah. But whenever something overwhelms us and breaks that inner clarity, that is avodah zarah.
Now, in the old midrashic language of myth, the Torah says that when we’re not connected inside the way we should be with the Divinity that is within us and that is surrounding us and so forth, then “G-D,” as it were, is jealous of the “false god.” But, what is the “false god?” The “false god” is represented in the story by a Midianite woman who is called Kozbi. The name Kozbi itself, based on the root Kaf-Zayyin-Bet, means “wrong,” “mistaken,” “deceived.” So, we have a story about a relationship between Miss Mistaken and a leader of Israel, who is called Zimri ben Solu’. Now, Zimri, can mean many nice meanings, like “music,” and “song,” and so forth, but it also means “cutting,” “to cut,” something that prunes, like pruning what has to be removed from a tree. And the root for the name Solu’ means “stung,” or “pricked,” like by a thorn. So Pinchas recognizes that a leader of Israel is, as it were, dancing with the wrong woman, meaning: embracing a “false Shekhinah” (immanent Divine Presence, usually figured as female). Remember, Kozbi, by her very name, indicates the other side of the Shekhinah. Instead of dancing with the Divine Presence Itself, he’s led astray by all these things that appear attractive to him, and that’s how avodah zarah and the relationship with the forbidden female come together.
So really, these two issues, his being with the wrong woman and the issue of avodah zarah, are really the same. It’s only that the story of the interaction between Zimri and Kozbi is about “Divine Jealousy” in the sense that “G-D” says, “if you’re not dancing with the Shekhinah, I’m jealous for the Shekhinah.” It arouses “G-D’s wrath.” “G-D” wants us dancing with the Shekhinah, that we should be connected and dancing in this world with the Divine Presence itself and not some false version of it. So Pinchas acts boldly because he feels how important it is that Divine Wrath should not exist. When we are dancing with a “false Shekhinah,” things cannot go right in the world and there is no Peace.
We have a teaching that says, “If there is justice below, judgment below, there doesn’t have to be judgment from above.” This means that if we ourselves get it together, we don’t have to be compelled by the divine cosmic powers to force us to get it together. So what does Pinchas do? He takes “Zimri,” the aspect of Israel, the form of the followers of the path that are led astray, and he punctures the illusion of the “false Shekhinah” (an obsolete concept of divinity).
By doing so he restores Divine Awareness to the people of Israel. And when they have this Divine Awareness, then there is no Divine Displeasure. Because all that “G-D” really wants is for us to have knowledge of the Shekhinah of Divinity Herself. But Pinchas, because he has the power to recognize what is most important to G-D, namely our knowing, our awareness of G-D, is able to puncture the illusion of the false Shekhinah, and in so doing earns the just reward of the Covenant of Peace.
But, really we must go even further and learn from this parashah how renewing Divine Favor requires puncturing the illusion of “Divine Jealousy” itself. The One that is All and Everything has no other to be jealous of and ironically, the misguided zealot who thinks otherwise is the very one who needs to be “pierced” and neutralized. Only that “God” who is everybody’s god and nobody’s god, who is all gods and no god, can bestow on us the “Covenant of Peace.”
Yehei shlama rabbah min shemaya ve-chayyim tovim aleynu: al kol Yisrael ve-al kol yoshvey tevel.
May Heaven’s awesome peace and good life embrace all of us, our People and all those with whom we share this Earth.
In memory of my father, the tzaddiq and ba’al Mitzvot, Yitzhak Aizik Dov Ber ben Shimon ha-Kohein, may his memory be a blessing.