We ended last week’s parasha with the Jewish nation crying as quasi-leaders sinned publicly with Midianite women, who had come into our camp at the Moabites’ behest.
The idea of one Jew killing another is shocking. Most of us think it never happens -- but the truth is that it does. It happens this week in the Torah with Pinchas. After seeing a Jew apparently enticed by a Midianite prostitute, Pinchas runs them both through with his spear.
It happened when the Macabbees saw a Jew publicly bowing down to a statue of Zeus in the town of Modin. It happened during the American Civil War, World War I and when the State of Israel was founded. Most recently, as most of us painfully recall, it happened when a young, deranged Orthodox Jew named Yigal Amir assassinated then Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin. Ironically, it was this week's Torah portion and the character of Pinchas that some of the most extreme Jews used as a justification for the assassination
Last week's Torah portion ended with a dramatic cliffhanger. A plague was in progress, punishing the Israelites for worshipping the false gods. Despite earlier prohibitions and the snare of idolatry, an Israelite man openly brought a Midianite woman into the camp. (Commentators infer that the two had sex.) While others wept, Pinchas pierced the couple with a spear, and the plague was suddenly halted. Pinchas risked both his life and the priesthood. The families could have sought revenge, and priests who kill are normally ineligible for service.