Some thoughts from Friday night. About the past week, the parashat ha-shavua, our guest scholar, Dr. Yehezkel Landau and going forward....
Anti-Semitism. Islamophobia. And, anti-Christian terror days just days ago in St.-Étienne-Du Rouvray (in the Normandy region of France). Reminders this week of radical gun violence in Charleston and Newtown. In Orlando and Dallas. At Virginia Tech. Racism. Homophobia. Persecution of women. And political demagoguery. Our world is made so vulnerable by excessive, irrational zeal. A wild devotion to God, creed and/or human power that impacts our religious world. Our political world. And, and our own, everyday lives.
On first blush, the wisdom of our Torah embraces a similar kind of passion. In parashat Pinchas, we witness an honor killing. Namely, Pinchas, the grandson of Aaron the High Priest, catches Zimri, an Israelite prince, and Cozbi, a Midianite princess, in an intimate act. An act for which he kills the two lovers--running them through them with his spear. An act of fanatic zeal. An act of jealous anger to which God closely relates. An act for which God rewards Pinchas. With the Brit Shalom. The Covenant of Peace. Because Pinchas showed his zeal for God and cleansed the people of Zimri and Cozbi's sin. Oi! Clearly, such promiscuity, seen by Pinchas and others as idolatry, misses the mark. But to kill over it seems just so excessive and scary--even in the young priest's so-called selfless attempt to quiet God's wrath (allegedly present in the form of a plague). Or even, as others argue, in his effort to deny an unwise alliance that could come of such a tryst and ultimately threaten Israel's unity. But, could Pinchas' zealotry simply be a function of self-justified violence? Perhaps...
A 19th-century Sage named Netziv gives us a different view of the Brit Shalom. To Netziv, the Covenant of Peace is a necessary means for healing rather than a reward for zealotry. By giving Pinchas the Brit Shalom, God endows the young kohain with the capacity to find an inner peace that will help him get over the self-destructive consequences of his self-righteous violence. The Brit Shalom is no reward then. It’s a second chance at mentschlikeit. And, to be sure, what our world needs now is not more zealotry but more mentschlikeit--more deep humanity, more goodness...and more peaceful means of resolving our ardent religious and political differences.
On Erev Shabbat, I introduced our scholar--my friend and teacher Yehezkel Landau--as a serious practitioner of mentschlikeit (or, as Yehezkel likes to say, being a “Jewmanbeing.”) I got to know Yehezkel years ago at Hartford Seminary, in his class called Building Abrahamic Partnerships. In this most inspiring and useful context, Yehezkel and his Muslim and Christian colleagues assembled fellow leaders from all these monotheistic faith traditions and taught us how to communicate with one another. How to look into each other’s eyes and see how we are created, as we say in Hebrew, b'tzelem Elohim, in God’s image--full of intrinsic worth.
And, during his visit with us, Yehezkel encouraged us with his wisdom on how Jews, Christians and Muslims can, indeed, share Abraham’s blessings in this age of zealous fervor. First we must transform our fear to trust. Second, we must convert our anger to forgiveness. And third, we must turn our grief into compassion for the suffering of others. Not easy work, but work we can embrace moving forward with our local and global partners in faith.
Thus inspired I offer this prayer to God. May our pursuit of wholeness earn us a Brit Shalom. May our Covenant of Peace with You flow out of our mentschlikeit. May we strive to be trusting, forgiving and compassionate Jewmanbeings--a collective force for good, open-minded and open-hearted, able to see the intrinsic worth of all human beings, all created b'tzelem Elohim--in Your glorious and diverse Image. Amen.