The fantastic story of Pinchas takes place in the book of Bamidbar, on the heels of the Moabite King Balak’s attempt to eradicate the budding Israelite nation by hiring the gentile prophet Bila’am to curse Israel to destruction. God foils Bila’ams plan, and Bila’am finally declares: “They are a people that shall dwell alone and that shall not be reckoned among the nations.” Bilaam seems to have sensed that Israel’s pride as a lone nation, with a unique ethical vision and destiny, protected them.
Thus, how would the Moabites be successful in their persistent mission to destroy them? They had to break their pride, their sacredness, their unity. They would have to create destruction from within. The Moabites understood human nature and human desires. What better way to break Israel fraternity than to send alluring prostitutes to seduce the men into idol worship? And this is exactly what they did.
And many Isralite men gave into temptation; they had sexual feasts and rituals on the altar of Ba’al Peor, the Moabite god. As a result, a plague struck Israel, wiping out thousands. But the men continued to be seduced, and some even flaunted their apathy and self-hatred. A prominent Israelite named Zimri paraded his Moabite mate, Cosbi, in front of all the Israelites, while his brothers and sisters cried – knowing too well of the destruction it entailed. Pinchas, heeding Moses command to kill the men who caused the plague, follows Zimri into the fornication tent, and thrusts his spear into both their bodies. The devastating plague ends, and God awards Pinchas with a covenant of peace.
One of my goals in painting biblical portraits, including the graphic portrait of Pinchas, is to tell biblical legends through a modern context, where a major difference is not human nature, but the technologies and contexts that express human nature. The story of Pinchas is not without contemporary analogy.
Today, Israel still suffers from a great plague – the terror plague – once suicide bombers, and now rockets and random stabbings and stonings. Death is at Israel's doorsteps daily, not because modern Israelites are committing sexual harlotry, but because they are committing moral harlotry – and they are not unrelated. Harlotry, unlike friendship or love, suggests a relationship based on passions. Just as life-sustaining sex consists of a partnership where two people are connected through the mind as well as the body, life-sustaining national partnerships consist of two nations making rational exchanges.
The cessation of violence is not a commodity for rational exchange, for the threat of terror plays on the passions of the people – fear and hope. But the “peace process” which world powers are yet again trying to push is based on the passions: the hope of the victim (Israel) that the terror will end, and the fear that they might die if they don’t give in. Today, factor in the fear of world disapproval.
Just as Moab wanted to destroy the Israelite nation 2500 years ago, Israel’s neighbors want to destroy Israel in the 21th century. And they have blatantly attempted genocide in the past, not through a Bilaamic curse, but through outright war. Seeing that they could not obliterate Israel military, they chose a more sly option: seducing Israel into becoming a country of “moral” pacifists, where she would disarm and willingly give-up crucial borders. At the same time, the Israeli casualties resulting from the economic, diplomatic, and propaganda war waged against Israel are dubbed inevitable “sacrifices for the sake of peace.” A plague has been caused from within.
The modern day Ba’al Peor is the “god” of the Palestinians. In worshipping this god, children are raised as pawns and weapons; individual rights are subordinated to the god's dream of genocide. By consorting with the PA and appeasing a political entity founded on terror, Israel too worships their god. Even worse, she breaks the moral fiber and pride that was meant to characterize and unite the people of Israel. And while Prime Minister Netanyahu parades his desire to sacrifice parts of Israel to the ritual prostitute Mahmoud Abbas, and feasts with him on the altar of American diplomacy, the people of Israel are continually faced with the terror of rockets, guns, and stones.
Pinchas was not a religious zealot, but a moral zealot. He went against the grain, taking bold action to end the cause of all this death. He represents decisiveness, certainty, and moral passion. He recognized that there is good and evil – and that good cannot "sleep" with evil. His seemingly brutal killing of Zimri and Cosbi in the act represents the killing of moral compromise.
The temptation for a hostage to give in to the demands of its terrorist is just as strong, and even as understandable, as the temptation to sleep with an alluring slut. And sometimes, once aroused, there’s no turning back. Ultimately, Israel must act upon her own self-reliance and political relationships based on reason, for the Israelites are a people that dwell alone, that are not reckoned among the nations. Only then shall we, like Pinchas, achieve the true covenant of peace.
Orit is a author and painter living in Ariel, Israel. Visit her website at www.oritarfa.net.
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