This week's Parshah (Torah reading) is the Parshah of Pinchas the Zealot: the courageous young priest who stood up against idolatry and immorality and, in the end, saved Israel from a devastating plague.
While Pinchas' radical response made him a hero worthy of having a Torah section named after him, we wouldn't necessarily suggest to our children that they emulate his behavior. Those were extraordinary times. Today, violence dare not become our norm. So, Pinchas—hero though he may be—cannot become our role model. At least not when it comes to the details of what he did.
Nevertheless, Pinchas does give us something very important to consider. What is it that would arouse our righteous indignation? What, in Jewish life today, would get us emotionally worked up? What would it take to galvanize us into action in defense of that which we consider sacred and inviolate? Is there something that would incense us? Anything?
What would it take to galvanize us into action? Is there something that would incense us? Anything?I am reminded of a famous saying attributed to the first Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. He said, "A Jew is neither willing nor able to allow himself to become divorced from G‑d." In other words, once a Jew becomes consciously aware that what he is contemplating doing will cause him to be alienated from G‑d and that which is holy, she or he simply will not—and cannot—do it. Even if s/he is not remotely "religious," it is something which comes from our inner essence, our spiritual DNA. It is in our very being.
How many true stories we all know that validate this principle. One that springs to mind is of a Jewish actor during the Holocaust. In those days especially, the stage was not the place where one would find "nice Jewish boys," at least not nice, Jewish, religious boys. When the Nazis invaded the town, they desecrated the synagogues and—painful as it is to write these words—they unraveled the Torah scrolls and rolled them out in the gutter. To add insult to injury, they ordered this fellow, the actor, to urinate on the Torah. He was not at all religious. He probably hadn't looked into a Torah in many years. Yet, he could not bring himself to commit such sacrilege. He refused. The savage beasts killed him on the spot. He gave his life al Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying the name of G‑d, and he went down in history as a holy martyr.
For the Jewish actor, that was his bottom line. What is ours? Religiously, is it Shabbat, Yom Kippur, Intermarriage? Morally, is it insider trading, fraud, murder? Nationally, is it Gush Katif, Jerusalem or Tel Aviv? Where do we draw the line?
Our politically correct rules of etiquette promote such unparalleled tolerance that a person's "democratic right" to do anything he or she wishes has become the defining principle of our generation. The Ten Commandments are obsolete. "Thou shalt not violate my democratic right" is the first and last commandment.
Of course, in any democratic country, people may choose their own lifestyles as they wish. But when there is absolutely nothing that arouses our passion, nothing that raises our blood pressure, nothing that sparks any kind of protest, then we have become an insipid, innocuous, characterless society.
The story of Pinchas and his brave stand for G‑d, Torah and morality gives us cause to consider and an important point to ponder. You don't have to be a zealot to have a bottom line. What is my bottom line? What would I get passionate about? Is there anything in Jewish life that inspires me, excites me or incenses me enough to take a stand?