While the Israelites could not be cursed through Balaam, they could be corrupted through the Midianite women. In this week’s Parasha, Pinchas took swift and decisive action when the rest of the leadership were immobilised, saving the Israelites from a devastating plague. Assimilation was a much greater risk than initially appreciated, but the leadership had no response. Pinchas took the law into his own hands, something generally unacceptable, certainly when capital punishment is the sentence. While Pinchas was rewarded with G-d’s covenant of peace and with the priesthood for himself and his descendants, there are very few other examples of zealotry being rewarded in Jewish history.
R’ M Miller,based on the teachings of R’ E.L Dessler, wrote that Israel’s mistake was to hanker after the idols of the heathen, a fatal yearning of the heart which brought on the actual sin and punishment. He wrote that the heart is the “arena where finally the battles of Israel are to be fought”. Inner integrity can be reached when sin is rejected both in desire and deed, and then there is atonement, peace and harmony. The plague of disharmony and confusion was then withdrawn, and the Israelites were then ready to have the allocation of their portions in the land.
The same is true today. There is something very reassuring about the leadership’s requirement for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. The challenge is for Israel to live up to those standards in an internally harmonious way.