Violence today seems to be at an all-time high. One need only look at our Torah to see how violent we have been as a people, especially during our time in the desert. Pinchas committed a violent act and had this week's portion named for him-and attained the priesthood. The Israelites began to participate in an idolatrous, orgiastic cult which led to a plague.Pinchas killed an Israelite man (Zimri) and a Moabite woman who were copulating near the sanctuary, and the plague halted. God rewarded Pinchas with a covenant of the priesthood and peace for him and his descendants for all time.
Why was Pinchas, who committed a violent act, given a "blessing of peace?" Rabbi Avraham Shmul Sofer (1815-1871), known as the Ktav Sofer and the rosh yeshiva of the famed Pressburg Yeshiva, responding to this query noted that zealotry is an "extreme attribute which carries with it great danger" which must be utilized only in extreme circumstances. Great people recognize when and where to use zealotry-and when not to use it. Pinchas, as the one of the only biblical figures to commit a zealous act, was given the attribute of peace to counterbalance his actions. The Ktav Sofer goes on to make his most notable pronouncement, "This serves as a lesson for the future, that in private and public life, the ways of peace are preferable to acts of vigilance."
Israel has consistently recognized the power of violence and the need to balance that power with peace. It is precisely for this reason Israel exhibits a greater degree of restraint than any army in the world's history. During last summer's war in Gaza, Israel scrupulously employed extraordinary measures exceeding international standards in order to avoid civilian casualties. Israel risked the lives of its own soldiers to spare civilian lives by providing Gaza residents with advance warning of impending attacks. Moreover, throughout the conflict, Israel repeatedly sought to end the hostilities through ceasefires which were responded to with more Hamas rocket launchings.
Despite Israel's extraordinary efforts, the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a draft resolution condemning Israel for its actions and made no mention of the Hamas-fired rockets at Israeli civilians which precipitated the conflict. Last week, the United States was the only country to support Israel and to oppose this outrageous resolution by stating, "We are troubled that this current resolution focuses exclusively on alleged Israeli violations, without any expressed reference to Palestinian violations." Thankfully, U.S. Ambassador Keith Harper characterized the American position with, "The historic alliance between the United States and Israel is the most stabilizing feature in an otherwise unstable region of the world."
For its great efforts to protect Gazan citizens and to return peace to the region, Israel deserves praise rather than criticism. One-sided efforts which fail to recognize Israel's restraint and its desire for peace will not further the interests of the Palestinian people. Instead, they will only encourage Hamas to again attack, forcing its citizens to suffer the consequences.
We are in the midst of an ideological battle in what seems like every corner of the world. Pinchas killed Zimri for one reason and one reason only-he knew it was the right thing to do. The Israeli Defense Forces do not attempt to curry favor-what they do is "the right thing to do!" Regardless of how we feel about the internal politics in Israel, I hope that all of us will continue to do the right thing and defend Israel in the public sphere against those trying to take Israel and the Jewish people down.
Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham