And behold! A man of the Children of Israel came and brought the Midianite
woman near to his brothers before the eyes of Moshe and before the entire
assembly of the Children of Israel; and they were weeping at the entrance of
the Tent of Meeting. Pinchas, son of Elazar son of Aaron the Kohen stood up
from amid the assembly and he took a spear in his hand. He followed the
Israelite man into the tent and pierced them both, the Israelite man and the
woman into her stomach- and the plague was halted from upon the Children of
Israel. Those who died in the plague were twenty-four thousand. HASHEM spoke
to Moshe saying, “Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aaron the Kohen turned back
My wrath from upon the Children of Israel, when he zealously avenged My
vengeance among them, so I did not consume the Children of Israel with My
vengeance.” Therefore say, “Behold I am giving to him My covenant of peace!
What did Pinchas do to make himself worthy of a “peace prize”? This was
certainly not an act that had any overt gestures of what we would consider
peaceful. Just the opposite is true! It was violent and cruel to the
untutored eye. What’s the meaning of his heavenly award?
Let us approach this “crime scene” like forensic scientists and with benefit
20/20 hindsight, deconstruct the incident to discover what happened. I
believe we may be missing an important piece of peace! It’s a little bit of
a dirty word in the world of relative values and where the only absolute is
that there is no absolute, but it’s worth mentioning here because it may the
most important part of the puzzle. That explosive word is “truth”- yes
“TRUTH”! There I said it! Pinchas exposed a serious point of truth while all
around confusion prevailed. Certain sacred boundaries were crossed and
blurred. Nobody knew quite what to do about it! A plague was afoot. The
congregation was consumed in a cloud of chaos. Pinchas surgically exposed
that truth – no puns intended- he lanced the boil and peace triumphed.
Rabbi Samson, Raphael Hirsch ztl. wrote that peace is a descendant of truth
and not the other way around. That might just be the hidden factor of peace-
the obvious truth- the pink elephant in the middle of the room that nobody
wants to talk about!
There’s a story about a Baal Teshuvah- a returnee to Torah life who was
living in Israel. He had accepted upon himself the full and complete
lifestyle and was experiencing the fullness of community life. He had one
issue though. He wanted badly to go gain the extra purity associated with
going to a Mikvah like many others and yet he was prevented from doing so,
not by anyone else but rather by himself. You see, he had a tattoo on his
arm, but not just a tattoo but a nasty image. It didn’t say “MOM”. So he was
ultra-concerned that nobody should find out about this ugly reminder of his
past. Looking at him nobody would or could ever suspect that he bore this
grotesque image on his arm.
As Rosh HaShana approached wanted badly to visit the Mikvah and so he began
to strategize and scout out how it might safely be done without his secret
becoming exposed. He figured out the optimal time when the Mikvah would be
least crowded and how he would be able walk along a wall from the shower to
the pool with a towel and walk back albeit awkwardly but with no one being
The great day came and the room was a little busier than he planned and so
he nervously hurried along a little faster than he should have given the
amount of soap and water on the floor. Then his feet when flying and his
towel too that covered as his arm because he needed that hand to break his
fall. The busy and bustling room was stricken silent. In that sudden quiet
he understood that his darkest secret was exposed and there was no way to
put the genie back in the bottle.
He was humiliated beyond belief. Nothing anyone could say or do could
possibly remedy his pathetic situation. Then hobbling along came an elderly
Jew who while helping him gently off the floor pointed to the numbers etched
on his arm and declared empathically, “This was my gehinom (hell)! Most
probably that was your gehinom! Let us go into the Mikvah together!
We see that when even the most brutal truth is shockingly revealed, peace
can begin to work its healing wonders.