Even when we know we are in the right and that the cause we are fighting for is a good one, too much zeal may lead us to an overreaction. This week’s Torah portion portrays the zealot Pinchas, who decides to take justice into his own hands. An inappropriate and public liaison between an Israelite man and a Moabite woman at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting causes Pinchas to take both their lives. In response, God brings an end to a plague and rewards Pinchas with a Brit Shalom, a “Covenant of Peace” (Num. 25:6-13).
Although the Torah presents God’s positive reaction to Pinchas’ actions, some rabbinic commentators take exception, finding fault with Pinchas for his zealotry, and for his having circumvented Moses’ authority. Some commentators explain that the “Covenant of Peace” wasn’t so much a reward as it was a correction to Pinchas’ violent nature. Interestingly, when Brit Shalom is written in this Torah portion, the vav of shalom appears broken, perhaps indicating that Pinchas is never really at peace.
Pinchas is a perfect example of the Torah saying we can do something, and the Talmud explaining that, even though we can, we really shouldn’t. Passion can move us to action, and often that is a positive thing. Yet, we must remember that all actions have consequences. Therefore, no matter how just the cause, giving thought to our actions before we carry them out might show us that discretion, may in fact be, the better part of valor.