Pinchas and Elijah

Insights into the Torah Reading.

Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple, | updated: 14:03

 Raymond Apple
Raymond Apple


Pinchas, after whom this week's Torah reading is named, was a zealot. So was Elijah. Is that why the rabbis in the Midrash identified the one with the other?

There is a superficial comparison, but the two of them are actually quite different.

Pinchas acts on impulse and seems to have no regrets. He sees evil and he acts. Were his victims really irredeemably wicked? He doesn’t pause to ask. He doesn’t seem to have any doubts. He just goes ahead.

What a contrast to a basic (and little known) Jewish legal rule, that if all the judges in a criminal case are unanimous, the accused cannot be adjudged as guilty because there cannot be a situation in which nobody has even the smallest inclination to dissent.

Consider Elijah. He – like Pinchas – is zealous for the honour of HaShem. But he carries himself in a different fashion. Despite his feeling of moral duty he is not sure he can live with himself. He wants to die. A still small voice nags at his conscience. That still small voice is God (I Kings 19:11-13).

The still small voice symbolises the nuances of the moment. It says, as it were, “Elijah: in the end you have acted correctly, but you did well to feel those qualms”.


Much of this week’s reading deals with the festivals. Isn’t it rather strange that in the middle of an apparently dull period of the year, the Torah agenda turns to the list of festive days that are either behind us or ahead of us?

The answer contains a profound lesson. Each of the festivals stands for a religious or ethical principle that is relevant at all times, not just once a year.

So what if it’s months away from Pesach with its proud message of freedom? Isn’t human freedom challenged at every moment of every day regardless of the month or date? Pesach comes once a year but freedom is a right and a challenge every single day.

Yes, we call Pesach z’man cherutenu, “our time of freedom”, but in reality every day should also be z’man cherutenu.

So what if it’s a long time to Sukkot with its message of Divine protection? Is life safe at any time of the year? Don’t we need to thank God daily for the blessing of His protective mercy?

So what if Yom Kippur is still months off with its message of human personal responsibility? It’s not just once a year that we need to accept responsibility for our lives, but it’s a daily feeling.

Every day we should give heartfelt thanks to the Almighty who endowed us as human beings with the capacity to choose the right path and to live according to the Heaven-blessed standards of justice, mercy, truth, uprightness and peace.

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