What can one person accomplish against a mob? This question is sadly relevant today, and this week’s parsha (reading) provides the answer.
At the end of last week’s reading, after the evil prophet Bilaam failed to curse the Jews, he advised the Midianite King Balak to make the Jews sin in order to be able to attack them. The Midianites thought this an ingenious plan, and they set to work implementing it. They didn’t just enlist commoners to the cause, either. The daughter of one of the Midianite kings went to seduce Zimri, one of the house leaders of the tribe of Shimon (Simeon). And she succeeded!
The Children of Israel were bewildered. This was one of their leaders, expressing through his actions that he believed this behavior to be acceptable. What would this mean for them, and the Laws they were Commanded to follow? At the end of last week’s reading, Pinchas grabbed a spear, and proceeded to kill the couple in the middle of their crime.
Pinchas, son of Elazar, grandson of Aharon, was not originally anointed as a Kohein, a priest, despite his lineage. Those anointed were Aharon and his sons, and their Priesthood continued with those descendants born afterwards. But Pinchas was already born, and did not acquire the Kehunah at birth. [See Rashi to 25:13] He was, relatively speaking, a nobody. In fact, the verse says at the end of last week’s parsha that Pinchas “rose from the congregation” — until then, he was a regular, almost anonymous member of the congregation.
So when he rose and attacked Zimri and the Midianite princess, others challenged him. His mother was Yisro’s daughter, and the Medrash records that others mocked him. They said, “see this child of Puti [Yisro], whose mother’s father fattened calves for idolatry, and now he killed the prince of a Tribe of Israel!” [Rashi to 25:11]
Yet he saved the congregation. Rav Meir Rubman zt”l asks [in Zichron Meir], why does it say that Pinchas took a spear “in his hand?” This seems extraneous, for it is obvious. But, he says, perhaps the lesson is that all Pinchas did was “take a spear in his hand,” and that was all that was needed. At that point, a series of miracles happened, enabling Pinchas to complete his mission and save the congregation.
Without question, we the Jewish people see the mob around us. Yet sometimes, all the world needs is one person or a small group to stand up for the truth, and the truth wins the day.