middot equanimity torah the solution of Pinchas

the solution of Pinchas

Written by  rabbi benjamin ehrenfeld

art-spearAt the tail end of parashat Balak we read of one of the most violent incidents of the Jewish people’s journey in the desert. In spite of all that had transpired up until that point, the people were still drawn to idolatry of a most heinous kind: the idolatry that objectifies the other (divine and human).

This goes so far that even as they people are presumably crying in repentance a particular man takes a Moabite woman to lay with him right in the presence of God and the community. Along comes Pinchas who takes matters into his own hands and spears both the man and woman.


The rabbis tend to find fault in the “solution” Pinchas provided. They suggest that maybe he acted too boldly. The problem is that he reacted the only way he knew how given the circumstances. The community’s standards of equanimity were pretty out-of-balance. It took an act of extremity to counteract the problem that was feeding on itself. Some of the community were engaging in hyper-sexualized idolatry and the rest were weeping miserably at their plight. The text doesn’t tell us how long Pinchas thought the matter through. Nor does the text ever specifically state whether or not God approved of Pinchas’ response. All we know is that in the beginning of the next parasha God makes a covenant of peace with Pinchas. Maybe Pinchas needed a moment of extremity to bring his people and himself back into balance.

This week’s parasha can teach us something remarkable about the lack of equanimity when extremity is necessary. The people were acting completely helpless. Some of the men were acting as if they were helpless to avoid seduction. Those who remained faithful to God became immobilized by their grief. Sometimes, when everyone is immobilized around you, you have to take a stand that is outside the realm of normal equanimity. One sometimes needs to act aggressively to shock the world around out of inertia and slavery to urges. But this is only for the sake of returning to balance, returning to equanimity.

So as we grow in pursuit of equanimity in our lives, let us not forget that there are moments where the pendulum has swung too far in one direction and we must counterbalance for the purpose of peace.

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