Divrei Torah

PARSHAS PINCHAS 5779

The beginning of today’s Parsha is a continuation from the end of last week’s parsha. Pinchas killed the prince of the tribe of Shimon and a princess of Moav who were committing an act of immorality. In today’s Parsha, the two individuals are identified. The Jewish man was Zimri the son of Salu “leader of a father’s house of the tribe of Shimon.”

Rashi writes two explanations as to the definition of the word “Nasi” – prince. One explanation is that the tribe of Shimon was divided into five sections and Zimri was the head of one of those sections – not such a distinguished person but one with impressive Yichus. Rashi’s 2nd explanation is that Zimri was the prince of the entire tribe of Shimon.

Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l comments that Rashi’s 2nd explanation – Zimri was the prince of the entire tribe of Shimon – shows how difficult a situation with which Pinchas had to deal. Not only were the princes appointed by the people through Divine inspiration, they were subsequently appointed by G-d Himself.

Pinchas disregarded this to protect the honor of G-d. The fact that Zimri was a prince did not exempt him from punishment. Contrary to popular opinion, celebrities are not above the law.  The people opposed Pinchas because they felt that he was killing an annointed of G-d – he is above the law. Therefore, G-d gave Pinchas the covenant of peace to confirm that he acted properly in killing Zimri.

We read in the papers and see on the news that often, higher ranking people seem to get away with less punishment and they could say whatever they want – do whatever they want- and people will be forgiving of them.

Many of us remember Mike Ditka’s colorful language and behavior on the sidelines during Chicago Bears’ football games. But it was ok because the Bears were winning. Many of us have read and heard about the behavior of several sport stars, government officials, actors and actresses, etc. We see so many people who are unmoved by reprehensible speech and behavior that they just pass it over like there is nothing wrong with it. The general public even seems to enjoy it and wants to hear more.

However, the Torah does not subscribe to that idea. If anything, the Torah is just the opposite. The holier the person – the more learned the person – the more public the person – the more he/she is held accountable by G-d for his/her actions. Public people are role models for the general public Public people have a strong influence on people’s thoughts and behaviors, especially upon the thoughts and behaviors of younger people.

Rav Moshe zt”l comments that this is the reason that the Torah does not reveal the name of the sinner with the Midianite woman until after he is dead. When a noteworthy person commits a sin, it makes a powerful impression on others who may emulate his behavior. When Zimri sinned, the Torah did not reveal his name because he was a prince and people might want to emulate the behavior of a prince. After he was killed, he had no more influence on the public and his killing – despite his high position – would serve as a deterrent to many.

If a public official or sports superstar uses inappropriate language, that teaches the public that such language is permitted. If a public official or sports star can behave immorally and not be punished justly for their behavior, what does that teach the general population?

The Torah comes to teach us – demonstrated by the actions of Pinchas - that celebrities are held more responsible than the common person. Poor behavior by the public person is a desecration of the name of G-d. Somebody who teaches others the wrong way to act and behave is held responsible for that person’s sins.

The Tanach teaches us that nobody is above the law. Moshe Rabbeinu did not listen to the command of G-d in the parsha two weeks ago and he was prohibited from entering the Land of Israel. King David had an incident with Bat-Sheva that appeared to be adultery, although it was not. However, his action was inappropriate for a king of Israel. The Prophet Nassan rebuked him and King David was punished. Shortly before the destruction of the 1st Bais Hamikdash, King Tzedkiyahu – the last king of Judah – violated an oath and G-d severly punished him. In G-d’s world, everybody is responsible to follow the Torah and there are consequences for anybody violating the law.

Nobody is above the law – not Moshe Rabbeinu, not King David, not anybody.

In fact, if a person thinks that they can get away with something, they will come to the realization that G-d will eventually get even with them. Our obligation is to live within the law and behave in such a way that others will learn and appreciate the beauty of the Torah. G-d willing, we then will see the “covenant of peace” that G-d promised to Pinchas and all the greatness that is promised to us in the Torah.