Thursday, July 9, 2009

Perfecting Pinchas

Phineas Slays the Celebrants, from Avi Katz's Alien Maidens in the Bible series
My brother recently blogged about the Biblical tale of Pinchas (Phineas) and Zimri (Numbers 25). In school, I was taught a midrashic interpretation of this story: Zimri sinned by engaging in public sex with a gentile woman, and Pinchas had a secret tradition that such behavior was grounds for assassination. But this is only a midrash - let's take a look at what the Torah actually says. Based solely on this passage, what do you think Zimri's sin was? (Hint: what was the role of Midianite women?) On what legal grounds does Pinchas assassinate an Israelite leader in cold blood? I'll post answers next time.

א וַיֵּשֶׁב יִשְׂרָאֵל, בַּשִּׁטִּים; וַיָּחֶל הָעָם, לִזְנוֹת אֶל-בְּנוֹת מוֹאָב.  ב וַתִּקְרֶאןָ לָעָם, לְזִבְחֵי אֱלֹהֵיהֶן; וַיֹּאכַל הָעָם, וַיִּשְׁתַּחֲווּ לֵאלֹהֵיהֶן.  ג וַיִּצָּמֶד יִשְׂרָאֵל, לְבַעַל פְּעוֹר; וַיִּחַר-אַף יְהוָה, בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל.  ד וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, קַח אֶת-כָּל-רָאשֵׁי הָעָם, וְהוֹקַע אוֹתָם לַיהוָה, נֶגֶד הַשָּׁמֶשׁ; וְיָשֹׁב חֲרוֹן אַף-יְהוָה, מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל.  ה וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה, אֶל-שֹׁפְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:  הִרְגוּ אִישׁ אֲנָשָׁיו, הַנִּצְמָדִים לְבַעַל פְּעוֹר.  ו וְהִנֵּה אִישׁ מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בָּא, וַיַּקְרֵב אֶל-אֶחָיו אֶת-הַמִּדְיָנִית, לְעֵינֵי מֹשֶׁה, וּלְעֵינֵי כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְהֵמָּה בֹכִים, פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד.  ז וַיַּרְא, פִּינְחָס בֶּן-אֶלְעָזָר, בֶּן-אַהֲרֹן, הַכֹּהֵן; וַיָּקָם מִתּוֹךְ הָעֵדָה, וַיִּקַּח רֹמַח בְּיָדוֹ.  ח וַיָּבֹא אַחַר אִישׁ-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-הַקֻּבָּה, וַיִּדְקֹר אֶת-שְׁנֵיהֶם--אֵת אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאֶת-הָאִשָּׁה אֶל-קֳבָתָהּ; וַתֵּעָצַר, הַמַּגֵּפָה, מֵעַל, בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.  ט וַיִּהְיוּ, הַמֵּתִים בַּמַּגֵּפָה--אַרְבָּעָה וְעֶשְׂרִים, אָלֶף

  יד ...וְשֵׁם אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל הַמֻּכֶּה, אֲשֶׁר הֻכָּה אֶת-הַמִּדְיָנִית--זִמְרִי, בֶּן-סָלוּא:  נְשִׂיא בֵית-אָב, לַשִּׁמְעֹנִי.  טו וְשֵׁם הָאִשָּׁה הַמֻּכָּה הַמִּדְיָנִית, כָּזְבִּי בַת-צוּר:  רֹאשׁ אֻמּוֹת בֵּית-אָב בְּמִדְיָן, הוּא.  ...{פ}טז וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר.  יז צָרוֹר, אֶת-הַמִּדְיָנִים; וְהִכִּיתֶם, אוֹתָם.  יח כִּי צֹרְרִים הֵם לָכֶם, בְּנִכְלֵיהֶם אֲשֶׁר-נִכְּלוּ לָכֶם עַל-דְּבַר-פְּעוֹר; וְעַל-דְּבַר כָּזְבִּי בַת-נְשִׂיא מִדְיָן, אֲחֹתָם, הַמֻּכָּה בְיוֹם-הַמַּגֵּפָה, עַל-דְּבַר-פְּעוֹר.

1 And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moab. 2 And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods; and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods. 3 And Israel joined himself unto the Baal of Peor; and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel. 4 And the LORD said unto Moses: 'Take all the chiefs of the people, and hang them up unto the LORD in face of the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel.' 5 And Moses said unto the judges of Israel: 'Slay ye every one his men that have joined themselves unto the Baal of Peor.' 6 And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, while they were weeping at the door of the tent of meeting. 7 And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from the midst of the congregation, and took a spear in his hand. 8 And he went after the man of Israel into the chamber, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel. 9 And those that died by the plague were twenty and four thousand. {P}

... 14 Now the name of the man of Israel that was slain, who was slain with the Midianitish woman, was Zimri, the son of Salu, a prince of a fathers' house among the Simeonites. 15 And the name of the Midianitish woman that was slain was Cozbi, the daughter of Zur; he was head of the people of a fathers' house in Midian. {P} ... 16 And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: 17 'Harass the Midianites, and smite them; 18 for they harass you, by their wiles wherewith they have beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of the prince of Midian, their sister, who was slain on the day of the plague in the matter of Peor.'


9 comments:

Sim said...

whoa! where did you get that pic?

Anyhoos, 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.) 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.

It is strange though why G-d would command Moshe to hang all the leaders, without their being any mention before this pasuk of the leaders sinning, nor any mention afterward of any other ones beside Zimri sinning. That would probably be the reason that commentators like Rashi learn the words 'vehoka osam' as referring back to the osam in pasuk 2, i.e., the Bnei Yisrael who did sin. The reason for 'taking the heads of the nation' is to help dispose of the sinners and speed up the judging process.

Granted there would still be legal precedence for killing Zimri, as long as he was involved in worshipping Baal Peor.

Dave L said...

What is with that picture. Why is Pinchas wearing a kippa sruga and using a laser? Is this some sort of strange political statement?

I know a lot of people who wear kippot srugot (myself included) and I can tell you that the average kippa sruga wearer does not own a laser weapon.

Ari said...

I felt bad for my shul rabbi when a few weeks ago, in the gemarah shiur between mincha and maariv on shabbos, we did the gemarah in sanhedrin that goes into quite a bit of graphic detail about what they were doing, and how many times. It was pretty uncomfortable.

Samurai Scientist said...

@Sim, nice response, I have posted most of my reply.

It is strange though why G-d would command Moshe to hang all the leaders, without their being any mention before this pasuk of the leaders sinning... That would probably be the reason that commentators like Rashi learn the words 'vehoka osam' as referring back to the osam in pasuk 2, i.e., the Bnei Yisrael who did sin.

That and the fact that according to the literal translation Moses does not actually do what God asks! But I think Rashi's translation is a stretch.

Samurai Scientist said...

@Dave,
What is with that picture. Why is Pinchas wearing a kippa sruga and using a laser? Is this some sort of strange political statement?

It does kinda remind me of Yigal Amir! Not sure if he wore a srugie, though. Anyways, ask the artist.

@Ari,
I felt bad for my shul rabbi when a few weeks ago, in the gemarah shiur between mincha and maariv on shabbos, we did the gemarah in sanhedrin that goes into quite a bit of graphic detail about what they were doing, and how many times. It was pretty uncomfortable.

Heh. Those situations are always fun - and fairly common with the old Talmud. Those rabbis and their dirty minds!

Dave L said...

"It does kinda remind me of Yigal Amir!"

Yeah he is real representative of the average srugie wearer. That's as ridiculous as saying that Jeffrey Dahmer is representative of the average Gay man.

Samurai Scientist said...

@Dave,
"It does kinda remind me of Yigal Amir!"

Yeah he is real representative of the average srugie wearer. That's as ridiculous as saying that Jeffrey Dahmer is representative of the average Gay man.


I meant the painting reminds me of Yigal Amir, not the kippa s'ruga. On thinking about it, it's clear to me that the series is a play on words. It features some of the famous "alien" women of the Hebrew Bible... portrayed as real aliens, in a semi-scifi, futuristic Israel.

Avi Katz said...

Glad you like it.Yes, Samurai gets it, Do check out the entire series of paintings of Alien Corn in my website
http://www.avikatz.net/sf/aliencorn/alienframe.htm
and let me know what you think ( avi@avikatz.net )
Avi Katz
Art & Illustration from Israel

Anonymous said...

nice read. I would love to follow you on twitter. By the way, did you guys learn that some chinese hacker had busted twitter yesterday again.

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