Parashat Pinchas (Phinehas): Should You Take the Law Into Your Own Hands?
In our desire to provide you with the teaching of Messiah Yeshua in a Jewish context, we provide in-depth teachings of the weekly Torah portions throughout the year. Below are various perspectives from various teachers and staff members from Netivyah Bible Instruction ministry.
Joseph Shulam: Living Outside of the Box 
This Shabbat the Torah reading (in Israel) will be Parashat Pinchas (Phinehas) (Numbers 25:10-30:1) and the reading from the prophets is from Jeremiah 1:1 – 2:3. Last week we read the dramatic story of Balaam and his donkey. The donkey was smarter than the famous magician with an international reputation.
This week the reading starts with a very dramatic event in Israel’s camp. The president of the tribe of Simeon, Zimri the son of Salu, took the princess of Moab, Cozbi the daughter of Zur, and had sex with her in public in front of the Tabernacle of the Lord. This horrible act of rebellion, and total rejection of the Lord God Himself, was done by the advice that Balaam gave to Balak.
Balaam could not curse Israel, but he found a way to bring Israel down, by sending all the beautiful Moabite girls to seduce the men of Israel. This horrible advice took root in Israel, and as idolatry and immorality often go together, this is what happened in the camp of Israel.
This was just a short time before they were to enter the land of Canaan, that was promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as an inheritance forever. Now Moses and the elders of Israel are standing by and wringing their hands with sorrow. They are totally horrified, and they have both loss of words and loss of deeds, they are paralyzed.
While all this is going on, a young man by the name of Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, takes the law into his own hands. He took his javelin in his hand, and he went into the tent and thrust both Zimri and Cozbi through.
The javelin of Phinehas went through both the man and the woman and stuck in the ground killing both of them in front of the leadership of Israel. This brave young man Phinehas stopped the plague that was raging among the children of Israel.
You would think that both Moses and God would be angry with Phinehas for taking the law into his own hands, and killing the two lawbreakers who did this sin as an act of defiance and rebellion against God and against Israel. This prince and princess had one aim in doing this sex act publicly. They wanted to prove that the God of Israel is impotent, and that the leadership of Israel was impotent.
Phinehas (Pinchas), the young priest of the house of Aaron, didn’t wait to get permission from Moses or Aaron. He took the law into his own hands, because he wanted to save God’s honor and the honor of the Tabernacle of God, that stood in the middle of the camp of Israel.
He did it on his own, an act that was totally outside the box, outside of what is politically correct, of what is permissible by the Torah. According to the Torah, an execution cannot be done in the camp of Israel without an orderly court trial and a decision by a special majority of the judges of Israel.
Phinehas did not wait for anyone to give him permission. Today in Israel, Phinehas and men like him would go to jail. The opposite happened.
God blessed Phinehas, and he was made the chief of staff of the forces of Israel – a 4 star general – for this act of bravery, and for the initiative that he took in a moment where the older and wiser leaders, like Moses, did not know what to do. Above all of the above, as a result of the act of this young man Phinehas, God stopped the plague that killed 24,000 men of Israel, and rewarded the not-politically-correct young man Phinehas.
There is a lesson in this, my dear brothers and sisters. God, more often than not, works outside the box. He honors, respects, and rewards men that have that energy to do things that are outside of the box.
The biggest outside-the-box act is when God sent His Son, Yeshua, to die on a Roman cross for our sins. What can be more irregular? What can be more politically wrong and deplorable than a father who sacrifices his own son for the sake of strangers and criminals?
God’s love for us, humans, is totally outside the box. This is why God understood the heart and the motivation of Phinehas, and in place of punishment, a reward was given by the Creator Himself. Let us all learn from this story in the Torah, that where there is no man to stand up for what is right and just and righteous, you be that man. If there is no Maccabee to fight for God, you stand up and be the Maccabee yourself.
Joseph Shulam: The Origin of Women’s Rights 
This week the synagogues around the world read from Numbers 25:10 – 30:1. This is a very dramatic reading. The two stories that make this portion of the Torah are the deed of Pinchas (Phinehas), who took the law into his own hands, and the story of the daughters of Zelophehad (27:1-11). I shall focus on the aspect which has received less attention: comparing Torah laws on the right of daughters to inherit with the practice of the ancient nations around us.
The daughters of Zelophehad came to Moses with a story and a request: “Our father died in the wilderness… for his own sin” (Numbers 27:3). Even though he died for his sin, his daughters apparently honored his memory. “And he has left no sons” (Numbers 27:3).
Since he only left daughters, and daughters could not inherit or receive a holding in the land according to the law of Moses, they also could not continue the name of their father’s family for the future generations. These seven daughters of Zelophehad argued: “Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father’s kinsmen!” (Numbers 27:4). It is important to stay with the text and understand that the daughters of Zelophehad requested to inherit their father’s land not so that they could be landowners, but for the perpetuation of the name of their father and his honor.
In my opinion, this is the first act of women’s rights/women’s liberation. The Torah recognizes only the male children as inheritors of their father’s property. There are good reasons for this ancient rule. Especially because the land of Canaan was divided to each tribe of Israel, and within the tribes to each family. So, only if the sons, who are those who hold the name of the family, inherit, there is no danger that the property will move to another tribe when the daughters marry men from the other tribes.
In the nations around the land of Israel, if there were no sons to inherit from the father, a daughter could inherit all her father’s property. Archaeologists have found documents from a place called Alalakh, (Stratum VII, 17th cent. B.C.E.), indicating that daughters had the right to inherit just as sons. There is evidence that this practice continued up to the 15th century B.C.E.
This practice continued later, as well, as is documented in sources from Stratum IV (15th cent. B.C.E.). In Ugarit (13-14th cent. B.C.E.) the laws are not as clear on this issue of daughters inheriting in the presence of a male sibling. However, it is clear that they could inherit their father in the absence of a male brother.
In Emar (13th cent. B.C.E.) when specified in a testament of the father, daughters could inherit the same as sons. In a few cases, the father could specify in his testament that the daughters could inherit and give his daughters the status of a “son” that would give the daughters the full rights to do all the ancestral rites.
In Egypt, in the time of the Old Kingdom (2675-1980 B.C.E.), daughters inherited the property of their dead father, but their brothers inherited a larger portion. This practice in Egypt continued also into the New Kingdom, that means all the way to the time of Moses and the children of Israel in Egypt.
The finding from the ancient Near East sheds an interesting light on the issue among the Israelites. Moses was raised as an Egyptian prince in the house of Pharaoh. He probably was well versed in the Egyptian laws.
Now, after the giving of God’s law in Sinai, their inheritance was given to the sons, the elder son received half of the inheritance, and the rest of the sons shared the rest. Suddenly, a problem arises, there are daughters who have no male brother and they want to inherit their father’s land. What are the options of Moses:
He could say to these women, “the law is the law”, there is no way to change the law. Not everyone who is unhappy with the law can come and demand to change the law and make it to his private liking.
He could say, I see your point, all the nations around us allow the daughters to inherit the father if there are no male children. Why should we be different than all our neighbors? Let these girls inherit. Equality between man and woman from noble families is a well-established practice in our world. Let us be like everybody else around us.
Moses takes a different route. He does not feel that he has the right to change the law or the custom of the people of Israel on his own. He has a higher authority form which to ask a solution to this problem. He considered the problem and didn’t dismiss it.
“So Moses brought their case before the Lord. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘The daughters of Zelophehad speak what is right; you shall surely give them a possession of inheritance among their father’s brothers, and cause the inheritance of their father to pass to them. And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: “If a man dies and has no son, then you shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter. If he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. If he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. And if his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to the relative closest to him in his family, and he shall possess it.”’ And it shall be to the children of Israel a statute of judgment, just as the Lord commanded Moses.” – Numbers 27:5-11
Moses presented the problem to God, and God understood the problem, and actually changes the law not only for this specific case, but also for the future. God says, “If a man dies and has no son, then you shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter.”
Dear brothers and sisters, I can’t express properly how happy this story makes me. I am a witness of a major breakdown of church hypocrisy. Churches who have been waving the flag of restoration, and bible only is our authority, and we want to be like the New Testament church, have ignored the clear instruction written in the New Testament on many issues, but especially on the issue of women and their role in the life and practice of the church.
I have wondered how intelligent men can be so unintelligent when it comes to the bible. The New Testament gives women a spectrum of possibilities to establish their equality. Let me just list a few from the very texts that promote equality and privileges for women:
“But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.” – 1 Corinthians 11:5
It is clear in this text that women can pray and prophesy in public, as long as they have their hair covered. Churches should have been teaching this and not forbidding women from praying in public. For the churches to deny women from praying in public – they have sinned against women and against the church itself.
“I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.” – Romans 16:1,2
In this text from Paul’s letter to the Romans, we see that in the church of Rome there were female deacons. The English text reads that Phoebe was a servant. The Greek word for servant is “daikon”. Just as the case of women praying in public, in this case women were serving in every church, but they were not recognized that their service was titled the same as the men, deaconess.
“And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.” – Philippians 4:3
In this text, Paul calls women who worked (labored) with him in the gospel fellow workers. I wonder what these women did together with Paul in order to be called fellow workers and laborers in the gospel.
Dear brothers and sisters, if we are still committed to the restoration of the New Testament church, let us not stop with the great achievements of the 19th century men of God who understood that the only way to be sure that we are walking in God’s path and getting out of the Roman Catholic stronghold is to return to the word of God in the historical context, and be truly committed to biblical authority for our lives and churches.
There are many more examples and statements, but this prayer list is not the place for enlarging on this topic. For conclusion, I must say that Christians state Paul’s statement regarding the Jew-Gentile challenge, but they forget that the next words in Paul’s statement in Galatians is:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28
Joseph Shulam: Zeal for God’s Honor 
This week’s reading from the Torah in Israel is from the portion called Pinchas (Phinehas). The portion starts in Numbers chapter 25:10-30:1. The first thing that is important for us to notice is that God is not angry with Phinehas for taking his spear and killing the princess of Moab and the prince of the tribe of Simeon.
Here is the interesting text:
“And indeed, one of the children of Israel came and presented to his brethren a Midianite woman in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Now when Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose from among the congregation and took a javelin in his hand; and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her body. So the plague was stopped among the children of Israel. And those who died in the plague were twenty-four thousand.” – Numbers 25:6-9
This young man Phinehas took the law into his own hands, and actually executed this couple that were having sex in the courtyard of the Tabernacle of the Lord. The top leadership of Israel was there and the act was done in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the leadership of Israel. No one did anything about this abomination.
Those who were in authority, like Moses himself, were doing nothing. They were just bewildered and dumbfounded, and knew not what to do. In this case, Phinehas took the law into his own hands and his javelin pierced the couple in the middle of their action. No one appointed Phinehas to do this act of violence.
You would think that everyone would be angry and upset with this young man who jumped out of turn and did this brave act. As you can see from the text, this out-of-order act stopped the plague that was reaping death in the camp of the children of Israel. The plague killed 24,000 children of Israel, and it was stopped by this act of bravery.
In the reading of Numbers chapter 25:11,12, we find out that the Lord actually praises Phinehas and gives him something very special. The Lord gives Phinehas a covenant of shalom (peace), and stops the terrible plague on his behalf:
“Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the children of Israel, because he was zealous with My zeal among them, so that I did not consume the children of Israel in My zeal. Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him My covenant of peace…’” – Numbers 25:11,12
The difficult issue in this portion of the Torah is what can we learn for own lives and times from this event, and from how the Lord reacted to Phinehas taking the law in his own hands:
- The law is the law, but at times the law does not give an answer to an emergency situation. Someone who sees the need and also sees the helplessness of those who are appointed to exercise the law and knows that he can stop the evil – it is his responsibility to not stand by and wait for the law to take action, but take action himself and be willing to bear the consequences if necessary.
- God expects everyone to do good every time he has the opportunity. Consider the following principle: “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17)
- Consider that most of the time in our lives our choices are between “bad” and “worse”. It is not often that our lives have the choice between 100% of good and 100% of evil. We must take into account the King David Principle: “But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” (1 Samuel 17:45) For his own sake, David didn’t defend himself on several occasions, but when it comes to someone defiling the name of God or the honor of our God David, like Phinehas, stood up and put his faith into action. All of the army of Israel and King Saul were standing by not knowing what to do, but little David, with the power of the Lord behind him, took the action to stop the dishonoring of God.
The whole world sees how Muslims honor the image and name of Muhammad. I would never suggest for Christians or Jews to do what Muslims do when some spoof newspaper in Belgium or Paris draws a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.
But on the other hand, Christians and Jews are showing weakness when they see the evil and hear the evil and the blasphemy against our God, and we just stand by and say nothing or do nothing. There comes a time when all good men must stand up for the right and stop the worry for the political correct.
We must stand up with Yeshua and with God Himself. It is up to the disciples of Yeshua to stand up for Him. It is up to the followers of Yeshua and the worshipers of God Himself to protect the honor of God and of our Savior.
Phinehas was not worried about the political correctness of his action. He was worried about the fact that Moses and the leadership of Israel were showing weakness and not knowing how to stop the sin and the plague that was killing the people of Israel.
Phinehas was worried for the defiling of God’s holiness and the respect of the people for God’s Tabernacles. If we are ashamed of our Savior in front of man, He, Yeshua, will be ashamed of us in front of His Father in the day of judgment!
Joseph Shulam: What Do We Do in the Face of Unrighteousness? 
This next Shabbat (Saturday) every synagogue in the world will hear the story of Phinehas from Numbers chapters 25. This story is very enigmatic, because when any law-abiding and law-respecting citizen reads the story he comes from it with a mixed feeling.
First, it is always good to know that God will raise up someone to do the job even when the leadership is weak and silent. Second, God can override the norm, and even the law that He gave to Moses, in order to promote justice and righteousness.
The case of Phinehas is actually just such a story. The story starts with one of the bible’s arch villains. Balaam was hired by Balak, the king of Midian, to put a curse on Israel as they were about to enter the land of Canaan. Balaam could not put a curse on Israel, but he wanted the reward money that Balak had offered him.
So, Balaam gave Balak advice on how to make the Israelites fall. He told him to send his beautiful Midianite women to seduce the men of Israel.
Here comes the part of the story involving Phinehas. The president of the tribe of Simeon, whose name is Zimri son of Salu, took Cozbi the daughter of Zur, who was head of the people of a father’s house in Midian, and right in front of the Tabernacle of God cohabited in public.
As the texts says:
“And indeed, one of the children of Israel came and presented to his brethren a Midianite woman in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.” – Numbers 25:6
Apparently Moses was there, looking on to what is going on, and doing nothing. Most probably Moses was totally frozen and did not know what to do.
“Now when Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose from among the congregation and took a javelin in his hand; and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her body. So the plague was stopped among the children of Israel.” – Numbers 25:7,8
Phinehas actually took the law into his own hands. He was a priest. He did not have the authority to take the lives of Zimri and Cozi, who were having sex in public in front of the house of the Lord.
In Israel today, Phinehas would have been taken to court and put in jail for taking the law into his own hands and executing the criminals who caused God’s anger to be kindled against Israel. Even though the plague was stopped after 24,000 people died in Israel.
Today there would be an investigation, and Phinehas would have gone to jail. In this case, in the time of Moses, the word says:
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the children of Israel, because he was zealous with My zeal among them, so that I did not consume the children of Israel in My zeal. Therefore say, “Behold, I give to him My covenant of peace…”’” – Numbers 25:9,10
There is a very dangerous lesson to be learned from this story; albeit dangerous it is very important. God rewarded Phinehas for the zeal of the Lord that motivated him to take action when Moses and the other leaders of Israel were frozen with indecision and did not know what to do. God gives Phinehas something very special. God says: “I give to him My covenant of peace.”
Here is the question that we all have to ask ourselves. When is it right to break the order and laws of human beings and be consumed with the zeal of the Lord, and take action in ways that might be questionable in a state of law and order?
I don’t have a clear and decisive answer for you, but I do know that we have to keep an open mind and attitude toward ourselves and toward others that might have more zeal than Moses had. We should not be condemning of people who are willing to sacrifice their reputation and their freedom in order to do the will of the Lord.
This is not situation ethics, this is a zeal for righteousness, that when one sees horrible and terrible things happening, the fire of God’s justice and righteousness is kindled and takes action. Note that Moses is passive in the story, and he does not react at all, either for or against the action that Phinehas took.
I am sharing this story with you because I have serious doubts that you have heard preaching on Phinehas from the pulpit of your church any recent time. You should read the story from chapter 25 of the book of Numbers and see for yourself the fascinating implications of this word of God.
Yehuda Bachana: Good Jealousy and Bad Jealousy 
Read the teaching below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.
This week’s Torah portion is in part, very monotonous, with a list of names and families making up the majority of the text. While at the same time, it is rather rich in content. This parasha is named after Phinehas, and his zeal which can be interpreted as jealousy, stopped the plague that had killed 24,000 people.
Further on in the parasha, we encounter the census as well as the division of the land according to the tribes. We learn about the daughters of Zelophehad and the laws of inheritance. In this week’s reading, there is a turnover of leadership and Joshua is appointed as the leader after Moses. Most of the holidays of Israel can also be found in this parasha, such as Yom Kippur, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Passover and more.
The Fine Line between Correct and Unacceptable Jealousy
Parashat Pinchas is not an easy parasha, especially Phinehas’ action, which is difficult and unclear – including the reward from God. The question that each person asks himself is, where is the right balance or the fine line between healthy, righteous, and correct jealousy, and between unacceptable, offensive, racist, fanatical, and impure jealousy.
Jealousy can be simple and clear with children. For example, “Why does he have more toys than me?” “Why is he allowed to stay up late and I am not?” These are the typical questions kids ask when they see what others have. Suddenly, whatever they possess becomes not good enough.
Jealousy is always affected by our surroundings, we see what others have and then we want it for ourselves.
Does Positive Jealousy Exist?
Here at Netivyah we strive to help those in need. This year, we are working with 130 families, offering them weekly support with groceries. Most of these families have many children, and the main problem that the Welfare Bureau deals with is related to the next generation, to the teenagers in these families.
These teenagers see what their classmates are wearing, their brand new smartphones, and they get invited over to their big houses. The result is that most teenagers who come from families in financial hardship, resort to using recreational drugs or alcohol in order to numb their senses and reduce the pain caused by their family’s situation. Sometimes, they turn to minor crimes and theft, so that they can have what their classmates possess. In addition, the school dropout rate for these kids is very high.
Is there such a thing as positive jealousy? If so, what is it?
Jealousy that Causes Competition can be Used Positively
Jealousy that leads to competition forces people to transcend themselves, to work harder developing their ability in order to reach heights that would not have achieved otherwise. As the talmudic saying goes:
“Jealousy among teachers increases wisdom.” – Bava Batra 22a
We often do not take action or give enough effort due to laziness, although in our minds we know that we should do more. This is often the case with our education, volunteering, or with taking life seriously and investing in the home and family.
When I see my friend advance or succeed, it makes me want to improve and be like him. It arouses in me a jealousy; a positive jealousy that leads to progress and success.
The Dangers of Envy
However, jealousy is also a dangerous thing, and it has existed in human beings since the beginning of history. We read and learn of the instance when Cain could not overcome his jealousy:
“…but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.” – Genesis 4:5 [NIV]
Cain fulfilled and executed his jealousy without much thought:
“…While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.” – Genesis 4:8b [NIV]
Later on we read about the brothers who hated Joseph and who were jealous of him. There feelings towards him were so strong that it caused them to try and murder him, although they decided to sell him into slavery instead in the end.
Another case of jealousy that led to murder can be seen with Saul’s envious feelings toward David. When David came back from battle and the women praised him more than Saul, Saul became jealous of the honor that David had received. In fact, later on he threw a spear in an attempt to harm David.
God Gives Us Everything We Need
The New Testament teaches us that God gives everyone exactly what He needs. For example, in 1 Corinthians 12, Saul compares us to the body which has many parts, each of which has a different function. Each one has a different gift and everyone is important, all of us are important to the surroundings and the community. Likewise, the community is important to the body of Messiah.
If we want to serve but do not know how or in which area, then the things that we have or do not have may give us a clue. For example: musical talent or artistic ability can direct us to a certain path, intellectual abilities direct us to another. Compassion or sensitivity can cause us to help others. The abilities and talents that we have are the tools we need to realize our purpose, which in turn is designed to build up the kingdom of heaven, and to build each other, and allow one another to grow and draw nearer to the Almighty.
If we look at it in this way, then the possessions or the talents that our neighbor has are entirely irrelevant to us. There is no point in making comparisons, since they are totally unrelated to the purpose of our lives. Just as the baker does not envy the tailor’s sharp scissors.
The Line Between Religious and Fanatical Jealousy
Now we come to the impossible question of religious jealousy, which means being jealous for God. We even have an example from Yeshua the Messiah Himself, who became angry and was jealous for God’s house, the Temple, and turned over the tables of the money changers there and cast out the merchants with a whip (Matthew 21).
The difficult question is, where do we draw the line between religion, extremism, fanatical jealousy, and pure, godly jealousy?
I am very afraid of the idea of godly jealousy because the line that separates correct jealousy from fanatical religious jealousy is a hairbreadth – you almost can’t distinguish between the two. A person who enters into the pursuit of religious jealousy can quickly, with one step, cross the line and move to religious fanaticism, which is dangerous and harmful to those surrounding him.
Zeal for the Right Time and Place
Let us return to Phinehas’ jealousy and what happens after the act:
“Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites. Since he was as zealous for my honor among them as I am, I did not put an end to them in my zeal. Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him.” – Numbers 25:11,12 [NIV]
This covenant of peace was God’s response to Phinehas’ act, it was actually a demand for the zealot to move over to a heritage of peace and acceptance of those different from him forever. God was saying that maybe your zeal was right for this day and hour, and we should emphasize that it was right.
However, God says we must not turn these attributes into the policy of nation, and in fact, we see here the divine declaration that the world can only be conducted in peace.
Please leave a verse in the comments below, that you think sums up, or adds to the discussion today.
Published July 8, 2018 | Updated July 22, 2019
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