Yes folks, I know I’m still a week behind. I’ll be posting an old posting for this week shortly, and will have a new piece for D’varim. –Shlomo
In the wake of the Baal-Peor incident, Pinchas is promised the job of high priest.
11. Pinchas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned my anger away from the people of Israel, while he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the people of Israel in my jealousy.12. Therefore say, Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace; 13. And he shall have it, and his seed after him, the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made atonement for the people of Israel. [Numbers 25]
Pinchas as it may be remembered stopped a plague that was killing the people because of their straying from God and worshipping Baal-Peor. His solution was pointed: a well known man, Zimri, a prince of the tribe of Simon, was doing rather obscene things in front of the Mishkan with a Midianite princess, while some were crying to God.
7. And when Pinchas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand;8. And he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague ceased from the people of Israel. 9. And those who died in the plague were twenty four thousand. [Numbers 25]
The brutality of this act and it s significance seems odd to reward. How are we to think of this act? I came up with one solution in an odd place: my upcoming move to a new apartment. After living in the same place for sixteen years, I’m now moving. When I was younger, I tended to move once every three years, no where seemed to be a comfortable home for me. But when I moved where I live now, I stayed. After thirteen years, a lot of stuff ended up in my small studio. There is of course my rathere extensive library, which took 42 boxes to pack. There is always stuff that gets under other thing like beds and shelves. Then there is the stuff that accumulates in drawers. The net result is every time I think I finished in one area I find more things to do underneath it. This can of course be very frustrating.
I of course have two options. One is to take all that stuff as it is now and move it. This would mean moving extra stuff I don’t need and may not even want. But there is a second idea – throw stuff out. There are a lot of my clothes in my closet that don’t fit me anymore. In my electronics drawers I have 9-pin serial connectors, which fit no computers made today. There was dried up paint and broken sculpture from my early attempts at art. Since I’m moving in with the love of my life, there really is no need anymore for that whole bookshelf of dating books either. Such stuff of course has no real use. So instead of wasting my time packing it and moving it, I threw it out or donated it.
The key to doing so is not having to move it, it’s not having to deal with it in the new apartment. Having uncomfortable clothes around means I can waste storage space and also wear uncomfortable clothing. The 15 year old VCR doesn’t even have the right connections to hookup to my television anymore. Why keep it around?
It is interesting to note this will be the last time we will hear of the people dying en masse in Torah. The attack on Midian will incur no casualties. Starting with Numbers 26, the tone of Torah changes. It is no longer about wandering in the desert but about moving in to the new neighborhood. It is therefore reasonable to believe the last of the first generation, the generation of the spies, were among the 24,000 who died in this plague. God removed the junk before moving into the land.
Now for some that seems heartless, but I often look at such passages about the Israelites not as a people but as thoughts in our minds. And here again is something important I’ve been thinking about my move. There are a lot of old habits and ways of thinking that were once important in my current apartment and my current life. Some were not important but did also become habit. In my new place, they will become problematic. I am no longer coming home to an empty house but for the first time in my life to someone else I love very deeply. I cannot come home at 9:00PM from work anymore, nor eat out every night. My patterns will need to change to reflect the new reality of my life.
We all have such things, many times to the change in someone else and not in ourselves. The classic of course is the parent who treats their college grad son or daughter like they are still five years old. It’s hard to break such patterns but to make relationships work, we must be able to break and bend such things.
Sometimes it takes one small effort to realize our thinking is faulty. There is one story in the Talmud that the reason the first goblet was broken at a wedding was a party for a great Rabbi’s son was getting out of control. The crash of the 400 dinar goblet brought everyone to their sense again. The plague ended because the death of Zimiri and Cozbi at the hands of Pinchas woke everyone out of their trance of faulty thinking. Suddenly they realized what they were dong and that it was wrong. God was going to kill anyone doing wrong in the Plague, but those that repented were spared. The death of two by someone other than God brought everyone to their senses. It takes a shattering moment to realize what we really need to do.
In a change of any kind there are moments which you realize the change is real and true and embrace it. One of mine came from a very little thing actually. It was a graphics tablet I had for years, stuffed into a desk I rarely use. Looking at the plug I realized it was a 9-pin serial connector, which hasn’t existed on most computer systems for quite a long time. There was a lot of the old me in that desk along with that graphics tablet. Most of what was in that desk is no longer in my apartment but a dumpster. In throwing it out I changed too, I threw out the old me who used such stuff instead of talking to people. I need to be a loving caring human being now, not some shy geek behind a computer screen. For Pinchas it was a javelin or spear, for some it may be a painful argument, for me right now it’s a trash bag. So I’m getting rid of the old me so, I can look to the bright future ahead of me.
Though Pinchas needed only one spear, I think I might need a lot more trash bags.