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By: SFW Students & Alumna
Alexis Levy (SFW '08, 09)
At the end of Parshat Balak, we read about the zealous act of Pinchas, who kills Zimri, the Jewish man who was sinning with Cozbi, the Midianite woman. In this week’s parsha, we see Pinchas is given a Brit Shalom thus presenting a seemingly paradoxical situation in which the violent acts of a person are rewarded with shalom.
Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, in his commentary on Pinchas, describes Hashem’s Brit Shalom as a state of the most complete harmony both between man and man, and between man and Hashem. He continues to say that although peace is highly precious, one must never sacrifice what Hashem has declared to be just and true. The peace between men rests on the peace between all of them and Hashem. Those who fight the people who are against Divine truth are those truly fighting for Brit Shalom. According to Rav Hirsch, it was Pinchas’ honest and brave act which saved the nation and restored the peace with Hashem, re-establishing the basis for true peace on earth.
The Gemara (Brachot 28b) tells us that after the destruction of Yerushalayim, Rabban Gamliel, the head of the Sanhedrin in Yavneh, realised the need to add an extra bracha into Shmoneh Esreh. Am Yisrael needed protection against heretics and informers. However, there was a difficulty in finding the appropriate person to formulate such a tefilla. Finally, Shmuel Hakatan, agreed and composed “Birkat Haminim”. Why was there such a problem to find a Rav to write this tefilla? Why was Shmuel Hakatan chosen?
A tefilla against heretics differs from other tefillot, in that usually, tefillot express love whereas this tefilla seems to stir up feelings of hatred. Pirkei Avot tells us that what characterises Shmuel Hakatan most fittingly are the pesukim from Mishlei (24:17-18):
“When your enemy falls be not glad, and when he stumbles let your heart not be joyous. Lest Hashem see and it displease Him, and He will turn His wrath from him.”
Shmuel Hakatan recognised that there is a difference between enemies and reshaim. An enemy is not intrinsically evil. We should not hate the enemy itself but rather the presence of a physical opposition. However, reshaim are different. They are innately evil and therefore need to be eradicated. We cannot celebrate the downfall of enemies but we can celebrate the downfall of reshaim. One cannot have ‘peace’ with reshaim. It is impossible to negotiate with those not just against the Jewish people but against G-d as well.
This mirrors the idea presented in Rav Hirsch – the reshaim are those who oppose Hashem and His truth and need to be eradicated to restore the possibility of true shalom in this world. This is what Pinchas recognised. He saw the fundamental difference between enemies and reshaim and that one cannot negotiate with reshaim, there is only one solution and that is to kill the perpetrators. This restored the peace between the nation and Hashem, stopping the plague and allowing the possibility for true shalom to be established.
1: Parshat Shavua