The weekly Torah portion and its lessons for all people

Pinhas , Numbers 25:10-30:1
The Covenant of Peace

by Avraham ben Yaakov

And God spoke to Moses, saying: 'Pinhas, son of Elazar, son of Aaron the priest has turned away My wrath from the children of Israel, in that he was very jealous among them for My sake, so that I did not consume the children of Israel in My jealousy.

Therefore say: I am hereby giving him My Covenant of Peace; and it shall belong to him and his descendants after him, the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was jealous for his God, and atoned for the children of Israel.'

Numbers 25:10-13

The act for which Pinhas earned God's eternal Covenant of Peace was described in the dramatic closing lines of the previous portion of Balak (Numbers chapter 25, vv. 25:1-9). Having failed to undermine Israel through Bilaam's intended curses, the Moabites sent their daughters and those of the Midianites to seduce the people into idolatry - and succeeded. At the very moment when Moses sought to bring the Israelite perpetrators to justice, Zimri, Prince of the tribe of Shimon, publicly paraded his chosen Midianite courtesan before the entire people, silencing Moses by pointing out that he himself had married a Midianite.

Pinhas alone had the courage to take the initiative, braving a mass lynch by all Zimri's fellow tribesmen and supporters to spear the embracing couple through their sexual organs, thereby saving the entire people of Israel from a ravaging plague sent by God out of anger at this flagrant breach of the code of sexual purity that is very foundation of His law.

It is a Torah principle that if humans here "below" fail to impose justice of their own accord, God Himself unleashes his emissaries from "above" to ensure that justice reigns. But if humans take the initiative to judge themselves and do what is necessary to rectify wrongs and injustice, the need for God to send punishments from "above" is obviated (Midrash Rabbah Deuteronomy, Shoftim 5; Rabbi Nachman Likutey Moharan 1:15 ). Thus despite the mass conspiracy to acquiesce in Zimri's blatant immorality, Pinhas knew the truth and publicly avenged it here "below", thereby averting God's vengeance from "above" in the form of the plague.

What is sexual purity?

At the heart of the Torah code of sexual purity is the sanctity of the marital relationship between man and wife, which is protected by the fourth of the Seven Laws of the Children of Noah forbidding a series of sexual prohibitions, including adultery, incest, anal intercourse between men and bestiality. Only a healthy, loving marriage provides the necessary structure within which to breed and raise good, healthy children as the future peace-loving citizens of the earth in accordance with God's commandment to Adam, father of all humanity: "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth" (Genesis 1:28).

The sexual drive is one of the most, if not the single most powerful of all of our physical drives, and this is our greatest challenge in life. For the sake of the continuity and ever-greater perfection of humanity, God's law invites us to elevate our sexual desires and satisfy them within the framework of a loving marital relationship where physical intimacy becomes the very foundation of the unity of man and wife, finding embodiment in the actual bodies and souls of their children, which are literally built out of a fusion of the seed of both partners.

There would be no great merit in rising to this challenge were it not for the constant contrary temptations to which we are subject to satisfy our sexual desires quickly and easily through masturbation, casual, indiscriminate sexual relationships and the like, free of any of the restrictions, responsibilities and burdens that come with marriage.

There was a time when the sanctity of marriage and raising children was respected as a fundamental value in almost all human societies. Even where extra-marital sexual relationships were rife, they were publicly frowned upon. However, from the late-19 th century onwards, Western philosophers and psychologists began to regard traditional morality as repressive and unhealthy, increasingly encouraging people to accept, pursue and flaunt all their sexual urges and desires. The American psychologist Alfred Charles Kinsey (1894-1956) and the German-American philosopher Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979) were among the leading apostles of the new trend, which has reached a point where today sexual license and promiscuity are accepted, promoted and glorified in all the mainstream newspapers and magazines, on TV, in advertising, popular music, films, fashion, sports and even children's education.

For example, 50 years ago the London "Times" was Britain's most modest and self-respecting newspaper compared to the gutter press, printing only a minimum of black-and-white pictures with never a single one showing someone unclad or in any kind of suggestive pose. But today, virtually not a single day goes by without several full-color, sexually-suggestive pictures and adverts appearing on its front page, entertainments, sports, lifestyle, health and fashion sections.

Today anyone of any age who has Internet access or a mobile phone can with a few clicks enter a seemingly endless sub-world extending quite literally across the globe, offering every kind of sexual stimulation, eroticism, pornography, "dating" and other services.

Who is zealous for God?

This total revolution in the surrounding society and culture now enjoys the full protection of the apparatus of secular law in all countries that see themselves as the "freest", most "advanced" and "enlightened", institutionalizing forms of sexual "education" in schools that confer perfect legitimacy upon sexual license and "sensible" promiscuity (i.e. with condoms available from high school dispensers), while at the same time fully equating homosexual relationships with heterosexual marital union, giving them the same social benefits.

Anyone who stands up in public to protest the ubiquitous sexual indecency and permissiveness in the media, entertainment, advertising etc. and in their place to promote sexual and moral purity risks being mocked and ridiculed as a fanatical die-hard extremist who seeks to impose an out-dated, repressive, puritanical code designed to kill people's "freedom".

Yet the gift of God's eternal Covenant of Peace to Pinhas in reward for singlehandedly standing up against the blatant flouting of His law clearly shows the true Torah view of indiscriminate sexual license as against the sanctify of the marital relationship.

In our times no single leader of the stature of a Pinhas has as yet arisen to quell the tides of sexual immorality and degradation now engulfing our world through the instigation of a mass movement for self-judgment and repair here "below". Accordingly, God Himself has begun to unleash His judgments on the world from "above" - i.e. through some of the many agents that blindly perform His will. On one level these can be seen to include the sexually-transmitted AIDS virus that is wreaking havoc in our sexually permissive world. On another level, these agents of vengeance might also be seen to include the ever-increasing numbers of distracted, impulsive, violent, demented extremists manifesting in societies all over the world who are dragging us all down into ever-deepening morasses of cyclical corruption, violence and societal disintegration.

We cannot say that we have not been warned.




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