Ruth Cuddleth with Boaz, from Avi Katz's Alien Maidens in the Bible series
Last time, I posed two questions: What was Zimri's sin, and on what legal grounds did Pinchas (Phineas) assassinate him? In the comments, my brother took up the challenge:
from the pesukim themselves it seems that the sin was worshiping Baal Peor, which had something to do with the girls of Midyan; seemingly being that they seduced the Israelites to worship their G-d. (Which is not at all far from the Midrashic interpretation of the sin, beside the whole Kanaim Pogine Bo part.)Bravo! I came to the same conclusion. The Moabites and Midianites (led by Balak and Bal'aam) conspired to send girls over to Israel to trick them into worshipping idolatry (v. 18 here, more explicit in 31:16). Contrary to the midrash, the big sin of P'or - what kindled God's wrath - was idolatry, not fornication. Zimri's sin was either worshiping idols, or encouraging idolatry publicly.
According to the translation you provided the line 'vehoka osam' means to hang the leaders, which would set a legal precedence for Pinchas to kill Zimri.Excellent - I think that's exactly right. At the start of this mess, God instructed Moses to "impale the leaders of the tribe opposite the sun (v. 4)," i.e. to make a public example out of them. Note that Moses actually disobeys this order and instead instructs the judges to "kill those involved in the sin." No wonder the plague didn't stop! Indeed, it is only when Phineas actually stabs an elder to death in public - as God had originally demanded - that the plague relents.
The rest, as they say, is commentary... go and learn! Shabbat Shalom.