Pinchas: Hero or Villian

By: Larry Tobin

Over the years I have listened to countless speeches criticizing our Biblical ancestors. How could Abraham sacrifice his beloved son Isaac? How could Moses abandon his role as father and husband to take on the leadership of the B’nai Yisroel? How could Jacob cheat his brother Esau and trick his father Isaac? How could Pinchas commit such a violent act?  I cringe listening to these character assassinations. Well, good people, the bashing stops here!

Pinchas was the son of Elazar and the grandson of Aaron. The Jewish people had been ordered not to fraternize with the Midianites. A priest from the Tribe of Shimon, Zimri, disobeyed this order by taking a Midianite princess into his tent in front of Moses and others. In last week’s Parsha we learned that the Jewish people had sinned with the daughters of Midian and that they also joined them in worshipping the idol Peor. A plague broke out. Pinchas took it upon himself to take care of business. A well-thrown spear put an end to Zimri and his paramour. Shish-kabob Jewish style. Some people describe Pinchas as a vigilante and religious fanatic who used G-d as an excuse to play out his cruel and violent nature. G-d, however, rewarded Pinchas by making him the Father of the Priesthood.  Pinchas’ connection to Aaron was more than familial.  Just like his grandfather Aaron, Pinchas had a peaceful nature. Please recall that Aaron is referred to as Rodef Hashalom (Chaser of Peace). The plague immediately stopped and Moses was commanded by G-d to wage war on Midian.

Did you ever have to face something so intolerable that you considered being violent?  Would you, could you, ever commit a violent act? No? Really?

April 19 to May 16, 1943. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. After experiencing years of unfathomable cruelty from the Nazis and after more than 250,000 Jews were transported from the ghetto to Treblinka death camp, the ghetto finally violently erupted.

June 5, 1967. The Six Day War began. An outmanned and outnumbered Israeli Air Force conducted a preemptive strike on the powerful Egyptian Air Force. After three hours of unrelenting bombing and strafing, the Egyptian Air Force was demolished or disabled as their planes still sat on the runway.

Spring 1972, Berwyn, Illinois. The Nazi Party obtained a permit to march. Laden with anti-Jewish and anti-black posters they marched under police protection behind a two- foot high hedge. They shouted death to Jews and Niggers. Suddenly, a high school student wearing a kippah was dragged over the hedge. Jumping the hedge past the police appeared a number of JDL men. I was one of those men. Nazi blood began to flow freely. Fortunately, my fist connected squarely on the jaw of a Nazi who fell to the ground. As I approached this piece of dung to inflict further damage, the dung heap raised his arm pleading for mercy. A nearby reporter took a picture of me, fist drawn, standing over an outstretched arm. Before I could resume my attack, a policeman put his arms around me and led me away from the fracas. The picture appeared in a major Chicago paper the next morning together with an article describing what had occurred. The Chicago JDL blew up the picture and turned it into a poster designating me as the JDJ poster boy.  The police walked all JDL fighters a block or so from the situs of the demonstration. One policeman announced that the mayor of Berwyn called and wanted us to hear the following: “Nice job. Now get the hell out of here.”

Is violence really never warranted? Was Pinchas a hero or a villain? You be the judge.

For more info and pictures go to:  interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/Chicagonazineighborhood

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